DNA and Diet: Connections you need to know.
If you haven’t heard about epigenetics yet, you will. This area of research is rapidly growing, and for good reason. Epigenetics, simply put, is how your lifestyle and environment impact genetic expression.
What do we mean by genetic expression?
Well, we are all born with a set of genetics, or DNA. We can’t change that. You can blame or thank your parents, but those are there forever. The good news, however, is that you can have an impact on how those genes work. That’s called epigenetics (1-2).
Some other words,you will hear include:
- Nutrigenetics: how our genes impact our nutrition needs. Examples of these include PKU or Hemochromotosis.
- Nutrigenomics: how nutrients and food components impact genetic expression or whether or not a disease or symptoms actually present. This provides information to design a personalized diet to reduce one’s risk of disease development. We’ll focus on this word more in this article.
When analyzing someone’s genetics from a nutrition perspective, we look for what are called Single Nucleotide Polylmorphisms (SNPs). This is like a misspelling in your genetics. There can be different variations of these misspellings. Here’s an example. Read the following three sentences; we’re going to relate this to genetics.
- The black cat jumped over the moon.
- The black cut jumped over the mood.
- The black cut bumped over the mold.
The first sentence made sense, right = no genetic SNPs.
The second sentence was a little off but one could figure out what it was supposed to say = maybe a few minor SNPs.
The third sentence did not make sense = lots of genetic SNPs.
We all have misspellings or SNP’s in our genetics but they vary in location and quantity. If you have many misspellings in your genetics, the body may not be able to figure out what to do. It will aim to take other paths and figure things out, but over time, it just doesn’t function as well as it could if those misspellings were supported.
Let me give you an example:
A common gene tested in many clinics is the MTHFR gene, commonly referred to as the mother-f’er gene. If you have a SNP in any of the MTHFR genes, you may need to focus on consuming certain nutrients like folate (3). This does not necessarily mean you need supplements, but it does mean your body will forever need a little tender loving care in this area because it has that misspelling, and that misspelling is permanent in your DNA. If someone had an MTHFR misspelling, they could support it by making sure they’re getting daily dark leafy greens or possibly taking a specific folate supplement. We always prefer the food version first.
While it’s great to know this information about MTHFR, keep in mind it is only one small piece of a very big puzzle. You can think of this puzzle like a symphony. A symphony is made up of many people and instruments. Close your eyes for a moment and picture all the instruments involved in making the beautiful sound. What happens if a one instrument is out of tune? What if numerous instruments are out of tune? It might still work and sound ok but it certainly wouldn’t be optimal. This is how our bodies work.
Ok, so a broken instrument is like that misspelling in your genetics, and just focusing on one gene, like MTHFR, is like just training the clarinet players in a symphony. While it’s important to train those clarinets, you can’t neglect the other instruments and you can’t forget to listen to how everything sounds together. With our bodies, you can’t just focus on one gene.
When speaking about genetics, we also can’t forget how food, movement, sleep, stress, inflammation, and beliefs affect genetic expression. Genetic testing is becoming popular and many people want to take a supplement to “fix” a genetic misspelling, but that supplement isn’t a quick fix. Lifestyle and mindset must be factored in. We’ll leave the mindset portion for another article, but psychoneuroimmunology is a term you can research on your own, if desired.
Another common gene that is frequently tested is APOE which is one of many genes associated with Alzheimer’s disease. While some people fear this information, the information can also be viewed as another tool in your toolbox to take control of your health. By knowing your genetics and disease risk, you can then take action to delay or prevent the expression of Alzheimer’s (4). There are many nutrients and lifestyle strategies emerging that research is showing can reduce or delay onset of Alzheimer’s disease for those with high risk. It’s pretty incredible to watch.
How do you get genetic information?
You can get information on your genetics through various companies like 23andme.com or ancestry.com. These companies will provide raw data–which looks like gibberish to most people–but this gibberish can be analyzed in a way that provides some digestible information if you know how read it. You’d want to work with someone educated in nutrigenomics to help you out.
We want to give you a warning. Many companies are attempting to make algorithms around genetic information. Essentially, they’ll ask for your raw genetic data, have you import it into their online system, and it populates a plan telling you what to do. It’s mostly a list of supplements and some dietary information. The problem is it doesn’t factor in stress levels, diet, infections, birth control, or other medications. ALL of those things and more impact what information should be populated. So we recommend taking caution before following guidelines from an algorithm. An educated professional is a much smarter route for genetic analysis, and it’ll be far more customized.
As you’ve learned in the 131 Method, the study of one is the ultimate route to wellness; there’s no magic bullet. Genetic information is about as individualized as you can get, but it’s still only one component of the big health puzzle. Diet, lifestyle and mindset are still priority, but once you have a solid foundation built, genetic information can be a valuable tool to take things to the next level. Remember genetics are your tendency but not your destiny. You control the destiny with how you decide to live your life. Here’s to the continued health journey! We’re in it together!