The saying "you are what you eat" could become "what you eat can change who you are" in the context of nutrigenomics. Your diet can affect your genes, and this is what nutrigenomics is all about.
Nutrigenomics, or nutritional genomics, integrates the sciences of nutrition and genomics. Nutrition studies food and how it affects health, while genomics is the field of biological sciences that studies genes.
This guide to nutrigenomics gives you an overview of genes, nutrition, how they're connected, and what it means for you.
The Connection Between Genes and Nutrition
To understand nutrigenomics and how it works, you first need to know what genes and the human genome are, and how they're related to disease.
Genes and the Genome
How many times have you said something like "it's in my DNA" or "it's genetic, I can't change it"?
Although the words "DNA," "genes" and "genetic" have been part of our everyday language for many years, the human genome has revealed its secrets not too long ago. Scientists have identified and described all human genes only at the beginning of the 2000s. They published the first draft of the human genome in 2001 in Nature. The human genome is the name scientists give to the collection of all human genes (about20,500).
You already know that you're born with a certain DNA, which contains all of your genetic material. In turn, your genes — which you inherit from your parents — contain "instructions" for how your body develops and functions.
Genes and Disease
Genes also determine if you are more likely to get a disease than another person with different genes.
Surprisingly, the genes of all people are 99.9 percent the same. The genes that make up only 0.1 of your genetic makeup — as well as other factors — determine your nutritional requirements (as well as your height, eye color and more features that make you unique). In addition, these genes determine your risk of developing a non-transmissible chronic disease. These medical conditions include diabetes and heart disease, among others.
The fact that you have certain genes that predispose you to a disease doesn't mean you'll get that disease. Whether you'll develop a chronic disease or not depends of how the genome will interact with other factors. These include nutrition, lifestyle (smoking, exercise and other lifestyle choices) and environmental factors (exposure to certain toxins, for instance).
Summary and Outlook
You already know food is important for maintaining health and wellness. But in the future doctors may use food as medicine, to reduce the risk of getting certain chronic conditions like heart disease and diabetes.
Researchers have discovered certain nutrients can decrease the risk of getting a disease even if the genes predispose an individual to it. The fact that nutrients can affect gene expression is the base of nutritional genomics.
Nutrigenomics studies how nutrients and genes interact and how nutrients can fight and prevent disease. The aim of this science is to create personalized nutritional treatments.
But nutrigenomics research is complicated. Researchers need to do a lot of work to understand how they can use nutrients to prevent or cure disease. So, you might have to wait some time before you can get personalized food or supplements tailored to your genetic makeup.
In the meantime, there are plenty of things you can do to lower your risk of chronic diseases. Eat a balanced diet and make sure you get all the essential nutrients your body needs. To discover the foods and vitamins that are good for your health, read the current dietary guidelines that the HHS and USDA publish. In addition, do physical activity regularly to maintain your health.
Finally, keep an eye on the latest nutrigenomics research to find out about the next breakthrough in personalized nutrition treatments.