Nutrigenomics is an emerging field in science. It is the study of how what we eat can interact with our genes to affect how our body functions.
Genetics has told us much about the origins of inherited disorders as well as identified genes that can predict different levels of susceptibility to disease. However, apart from specific inherited disorders, susceptibility does not have to mean inevitability. Your genes are a dynamic formula subject to the unique combination of your personal genetic make-up, and are adaptable to the specific environment to which your behaviour exposes them.
This environment includes nutrition, and lifestyle, for example, dietary habits, activity and stress levels. Your individual genetic make up may require a very different balance of nutrients to another person's. This is why one diet does not fit all, and why one diet may be highly beneficial for one person but can be deleterious to the health and well being of another.
It is common to look at individual genes and their mutations as targets in themselves. What is more important is to try to build a picture of the whole.
A genetic test that tells you where you have mutations (single nucleotide polymorphisms, SNPs or "snips") is not necessarily diagnostic of those genes actively affecting you. A SNP on a test can tell you that there is a potential problem with the activity of that gene, but it does not tell you whether that SNP is actually exerting this potential effect. We might look at this as whether this altered gene is turned on or off in a person's body. This is described as 'gene expression'. If a gene appears to be acting according to the SNP, we may conclude that this alteration is likely to be expressing. We cannot be sure whether a gene SNP is expressing or not just by looking at the test.
How can we tell whether a gene is expressing or not? The answer is that we cannot directly tell whether a gene is turned on or off. We have to use functional testing alongside the genetic test. This will give a picture of an individual's unique metabolism. In other words, we can look at how a person is handling the molecules and compounds taken in and produced inside the body. Imbalances in nutrients and metabolites (substances created after processing nutrients and other compounds within the body), when looked at together with the gene results can give an indication of whether certain SNPs may be actively affecting the functioning of bodily systems, or not.
It is also important to understand that targeting one particular SNP, even if you suspect it to be expressing, is not the way forward. The body is an interacting 'whole'. Inappropriately targeting a single SNP could adversely affect a different area of metabolism, especially if there are also other SNPs potentially affecting those areas too.
Additionally, the body is homeostatic, in other words, it has ingenious ways of rebalancing itself. Not only may genes compensate for others that are altered, but your own actions can help or hinder your body in making these compensations for imbalanced areas in your genetic code. Supporting the body in its own rebalancing activity is an important aspect of dealing with alterations in your metabolic genetic code.
Nutrigenomics is not all about genetic markers for disease susceptibility. It is an excellent tool alongside specific tests for assessing metabolic function. This can be very useful for those with long-term, chronic and complex health issues, as it allows us to investigate to a deeper, more personalised level to obtain a more detailed picture of where the root of problems may lie. It can facilitate small, specifically targeted strategies designed for an individual's unique biochemistry.
I do not do genetic testing routinely. I do genetic tests only for my own clients or in collaboration with other BANT registered Nutritional Therapists if I think it might be clinically useful and only after a full discussion about its implications. One of the functional tests described on the right must also be done alongside the genetic test.
Some genetic tests are available directly to the public, such as 23andMe. I can interpret this test for you, and the fee to do so includes a one hour appointment.