Today we have a precision tool when it comes to personalizing our diet: the nutrigenetic test. It consists of a test that allows us to know what foods we must add or reduce to cover our nutrient needs and to prevent diseases that can be addressed through nutrition. Do you want to know more about this type of test and the valuable information it provides us? Keep reading!
The relationship between nutrition and health
Academically, the WHO (World Health Organization) defines nutrition as food intake in relation to the dietary needs of the body. Although this is completely correct, we all know that nutrition is much more, and that there are also many ways to sit down at the table, either fulfilling the objective of taking care of ourselves or the sole objective of satisfying hunger.
Also Read: The beneficial health effects of a balanced diet
There is more and more evidence of the importance that this simple and daily act has in achieving an optimal state of health. This has fostered the development of various trends among nutrition experts, who find a perfect channel for dissemination on social networks. These movements, although different, almost always converge on a common premise: the importance of eating unprocessed foods, avoiding additives and always trying to enhance the contribution of fruit and vegetables.
How does DNA influence nutritional needs?
Most of us know the general recommendations for following a healthy and balanced diet and for obtaining the appropriate amounts of each type of nutrient. However, the same diet can have different effects on each individual . For example, even if two people eat in the same way, it can happen that one of them gains weight and the other does not.
This happens, among other things, because the recommendations serve to guide the entire population in general, however, they do not take into account a factor that makes us unique: our DNA and the specific needs that may arise from the genetic information we present. .
The nutrigenetic test
Fortunately, we have a tool that allows us to learn a little more about ourselves and adapt the general recommendations: the nutrigenetic tests . Thanks to them it is possible to take into account our DNA when defining the most suitable diet for each person.
The genetic differences between individuals can reach determine the nutritional needs and even predispose different pathologies of multifactorial origin, ie that are influenced by genetics and the environment. Nutritional genomics tries to study and provide information about this interesting interaction between genetics and nutrition.
Nutrigenomics and nutrigenetics
The DNA is the molecule of life and contains all the information necessary to maintain and preserve it . The DNA of each individual has small peculiarities, they are what make us unique and in the same way, define our needs, strengths and weaknesses.
Genetics is increasingly involved in caring for healthy people in order to maintain health and prevent disease. Nutritional genomics is one more step on this path. It is a discipline that groups nutrigenetics and nutrigenomics, and studies the relationship between the human genome, nutrition and health.
Although in practice the terms nutrigenomics and nutrigenetics are often interchangeable, they actually have different meanings:
- Nutrigenetics studies the way in which the body responds to the diet based on the individual genetic profile. This discipline also analyzes genetic variants (polymorphisms or SNPs) in DNA that are associated with nutrition-related diseases.
- Nutrigenomics, for its part, focuses on the study of the effects that diet has on the set of genes, proteins and metabolites of our body, that is, it studies the way in which nutrients can impact on the expression of genes.
Nutritional genomics science or fiction?
These two words together seem to be taken from a science fiction movie, we are aware, but the DNA sequencing advances in giant steps and the information that we know day by day related to our DNA is increasingly present in our day to day, allowing science to advance in different directions.
Also Read: How to prevent obesity
Today there are many studies supporting the relationship between genetics and nutrition . There are published studies that describe variants in genes that can influence different aspects of our health. Knowing if we present these variants in our DNA is useful, since it allows us to adapt our diet accordingly. Here are some examples:
- There are variants in the FUT2 gene or in the NBPF3 gene that are related to a lower absorption of vitamin B12 or B6, respectively . Thanks to the analysis of these variants, we can adapt the diet by enriching it with foods that contain these vitamins, which are so relevant to the cardiovascular system, cognitive development or sports performance.
- There are certain variants in the MCM6 gene that are related to lactose intolerance associated with age. Most people lose their ability to metabolize lactose over time, that is, they stop producing lactase , the enzyme that metabolizes it. This is a natural process in mammals, since when they reach adulthood they do not need to drink milk. People with certain variants in their DNA are able to maintain their ability to produce lactase throughout life. If you do not have these protective variants, over time you can develop lactose intolerance, presenting gas, digestive discomfort and diarrhea, when you eat foods that contain it.
- Certain variants in the GC gene are associated with lower levels of vitamin D in the blood, this vitamin has an important role in calcium absorption, cognitive health, cancer or psoriasis. If a person presents such variants, they can enrich their diet with foods that contain it or even take nutritional supplements, if necessary.
The adaptation of diet on DNA function allows you to customize the diet depending on the needs of each person. The variants that are included in the nutrigenetic tests usually have evidence that comes from association studies (GWAS – Genome Wide Association Studies ). The results of these studies provide a risk of presenting a specific trait (low vitamin levels, muscle strength, obesity, etc.) in people who present the variant compared to people who do not. This risk can be easily managed through food, so it is worth knowing.
Genetics and diet, can we prevent diseases?
Many multifactorial diseases are related or can be managed through diet. Nutrigenetics allows us to know that part of ourselves that we do not usually take into account: genetics. Knowing if we are susceptible to certain diseases of a genetic and environmental component, gives us the opportunity to take care of ourselves in a more personalized way, incorporating or reducing certain types of food. In this way we can get the healthiest version of ourselves.
Nutrition is the most important environmental factor, which is why we should not underestimate the importance it has in relation to health and disease. Here are some examples:
- Certain genetic variants in the PNPLA3 gene increase the possibility of developing non-alcoholic fatty liver , that is, the accumulation of fat in the liver not related to alcohol consumption. If a person presents variants related to this disease, they must adapt their diet to reduce fat intake, calorie consumption and body weight. Following these guidelines will reduce or limit the accumulation of fat in the liver that, in the long term, if not avoided, will cause fibrosis (scar tissue) in the liver, as well as inflammation and cirrhosis.
- The presence of certain variants in the CTRC and SPINK1 genes increases the susceptibility to presenting pancreatitis , this is a multifactorial pathology, so we can influence diet to try to avoid its development through a low-fat diet, control weight and limit alcohol consumption.
Preventing diseases through food is part of the dogma that Hippocrates already spoke about “That food is your food and food your medicine” . Today this maxim is a reality that, also, thanks to the information from the nutrigenetic tests, can go one step further, guiding the nutritional approach based on your needs, defined in your DNA.
What should be taken into account when choosing a nutrigenetic test?
In order to choose a nutrigenetic test, it is important to know in advance the information that we are going to receive and what use it will have. Not all tests of this type are the same : there are very complete nutrigenetic tests, others are oriented to certain areas, such as sports or weight loss, and others announce that they can provide information to adapt the entire diet.
You must be careful, since genetics is a complex field when you don’t have basic knowledge, and it is easy to confuse people. Therefore, it is always recommended to request this type of tests through a specialist who guides you and gives you realistic expectations about the information you are going to receive.
Here are some considerations to keep in mind when requesting a nutrigenetic test :
- Keep in mind that, although genes are important, the recommendations are still valid : the association recommendations are still valid because we have the result of a nutrigenetic test. This type of evidence has the advantage of providing more specific information for us.
- Seek advice from a nutritionist or genetic counselor : to avoid disappointment, it is highly recommended that there is a professional to whom we can ask questions and who can show us the usefulness of the test in a real way, not with grandiose expectations. In addition, after receiving the result, a nutritionist will be able to help you with an appropriate diet for you depending on the results.
- Ask questions : you are probably interested in a specific objective and it is better that you make sure that the test you choose is useful to achieve it.
- Make sure that the test has scientific evidence: not all tests have the same evidence, therefore, check about the existence of publications that support the test.
Today medicine is in a process of transformation in which it is ceasing to be reactive, applying the same treatment to all sick patients, to be proactive, anticipating the development of diseases in order to avoid them. To achieve this goal, medicine is becoming increasingly personalized and based on informed decisions. This new approach leads to personalized preventive medicine and is where we all move.
Within this trend in which prevention and personalization have an increasingly relevant role, nutrigenetics also becomes important, since it allows nutrition to be adapted to each individual based on their genes, to be healthier and to take measures to prevent diseases.
In addition to variants that help prevent pathologies or deficiencies, nutrigenetics can provide curious information that helps us to know ourselves a little more. For example, we can know if we have variants that predispose us to eat between meals, variants responsible for coriander tasting like soap or making us have a sweet tooth. Useful? Not much, but it satisfies our curiosity and helps us get to know each other a little better.
Today, more than ever, information is power, and knowing ourselves is the first step to take control of our diet and our health.