Nutrigenomics: the Blueprint to Biohacking your Diet
Many people have heard that genes affect our nutrition, but many don’t realize Nutrition can also influence our genes. This is good news, as it means your genes aren’t the be all end all, and lifestyle wins in the end.
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What is Nutrigenomics?
Nutrigenomics is the scientific study of the interaction of nutrition and genes, especially with regard to the prevention or treatment of disease.
DNA is the blueprint, or instructions, for how our body functions, and little pieces or clips of DNA that govern common functions like Vitamin D absorption can vary from one person to another.
The main variation when it comes to the nutritional effect of genes is either a slower or faster metabolism of a certain nutrient.
For example, with vitamin D - someone may process or absorb vitamin D better or worse that someone else based on their genetic makeup. Now that doesn’t mean the poorer absorber is doomed. That is just their propensity. They simply need to consume more vitamin D than someone who absorbs or processes more efficiently. The good news is that with this knowledge, the poorer absorber can adjust their lifestyle so that their poor vitamin D absorption is accounted for.
So now you're wanting to know all the information - how do I know which genes I should be looking out for and what do I do with that information? These are great questions. As a practicing Registered Dietitian, I don't commonly run a genetic test on all my clients, but when fitting we use Stratagene (linked) for help getting to the root cause of symptoms. You can easily pursue genetic testing through Stratagene yourself, and when it comes time to review your results, we would be happy to assist you with recommendations on how to adjust your lifestyle (if needed) for best gene expression. Note that it does require that you have taken one of the two DNA tests: 23andMe or Ancestry - see their website for more details.
Genes that influence nutrition
Here is a list of genes that can influence nutrition, and some ideas of how we can personalize nutrition to support areas that need more help and balance areas that are already working optimally:
MTHFR - What’d you call me?
Haha... it’s just a gene that governs folate metabolism. So you heard you’re supposed to have lots of folic acid (synthetic version of folate) when pregnant right? Well IT DEPENDS.
If you don’t process folic acid well (as in the case of having MTHFR variation), folic acid may make your folate stay worse and actually increase your need for real folate! Folate comes from leafy greens, but can also be supplemented which may be helpful in those with this gene variation. And because I don’t run nutrigenomic testing on every single client, I usually recommend methylated folate (not folic acid) for everyone just in case.
Bottom line: folic acid is cheap and minimally absorbable at best for at least 50% of people, so opt for folate or folinate instead.
MTHFR governs methylation - a process which supports hundreds of reactions in the body –everything from detoxification, energy production, and fertility. There are two MTHFR genes, so if one or both are slow, you may need more folate (not folic acid) than the average person. At least 50% of the world has 1 or 2 MTHFR variations, meaning many of us need more folate than once thought.
Here are some tips if you have one or both of the MTHFR variations:
Avoid folic acid (such as in fortified foods like cold cereal and bread). It causes an even greater need for folate, which folic acid (synthetic form of folate) actually depletes and interrupts metabolism of folate.
Reduce alcohol which also depletes folate from the body.
Birth control pills also deplete folate, which is more of an issue for those with an already poor folate metabolism.
Aspirin and NSAID’s may not be well-tolerated
Consume adequate amounts of folate and riboflavin (B2) from a variety of sources.
MTRR: governs Vitamin B12 metabolism. If it’s slow (slow = low-normal B12 status despite supplementing with a multi or B12 from a pharmacy or grocery store), consider supplementation with methyl B12 OR for those sensitive to methyl (anxiety/irritability after taking) there are other forms that are easier to metabolize and can be converted to methyl in the body.
Bottom line: cyanocobalamin is the cheapest, least-absorbable form of B12. Check your bottle labels and replace any supplements with this form of B-12.
COMT affects metabolism of estrogen (think hormonal balance and weight management) and neurotransmitters –dopamine, norepinephrine, and epinephrine (think mood and focus/concentration).
Hormonal imbalances like endometriosis, fibroids, heavy periods, difficulty losing weight, and acne can be signs of a sluggish COMT gene.
The plus side to a slow COMT is you may be super-focused and motivated because epinephrine hangs out longer to help make cranking out projects easier.
Suggestions for slow COMT:
Cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, kale, cabbage) can help to support estrogen metabolism and prevent buildup which can contribute to hormonal imbalances.
Caffeine may not be well tolerated and lead to anxiety or irritability.
A fast COMT can look like ADHD with impulsive tendencies and difficulty focusing. Cravings and addiction are common.
Suggestions for fast COMT:
A diet rich in protein, but also balanced with healthy fats and fiber-rich carbs is especially important to balance blood sugar and inhibit cravings.
Quercetin and green tea can be helpful supplements to balance fast COMT
DAO processes histamine, so an imbalance can influence propensity for seasonal allergies and food intolerances. Symptoms include seasonal allergy symptoms, headaches, itchy skin, racing heart, and moodiness.
Suggestions for DAO imbalance:
Metformin reduces DAO function, which can make processing histamine even more sluggish and therefore contribute more to allergy like symptoms.
Copper and Vitamin C deficiencies slow down DAO
Deal with SIBO if suspected, which can worsen histamine response.
MAOA affects mood and sleep depending on how fast or slow it processes the neurotransimtters norepinephrine and serotonin. If you churn through serotonin because of a fast MAOA, you may struggle with depression and/or crave carbs to (temporarily) alleviate mood swings. A slow MAOA can also mean irritability as well as food intolerances (especially to amines in wine, chocolate, cheese, and sometimes other fermented foods).
Suggestions to balance MAOA:
Riboflavin (B2) supports MAOA function, and so in some cases can help reduce migraines.
Foods naturally high in amines (chocolate, wine, cheese, and fermented foods like kombucha or sauerkraut) may aggravate symptoms by slowing MAOA further and prolonging histamine response.
Supporting glutathione production with cruciferous vegetables can help reduce the negative effects of MAOA. Vitamin C can also help to reduce byproducts related to a fast MAOA
GST/GPX supports detoxification of environmental pollutants and internal toxin metabolites, so you may be more likely to have sensitivities to chemicals and fragrances.
NOS3 affects circulation and cardiovascular health, so symptoms can include fatigue especially during exercise, cold hands and feet, and a family history of cardiovascular disease.
Suggestions for NOS3 balancing:
mouth breathing can gunk up your NOS3 gene. You can mouth tape at night to help with this, you can watch DR Lynch has a few videos on this. If you’re congested at night, work on reducing histamine and mucus production with liposomal Vitamin C and bifido probiotics.
Increase fruit and vegetable intake to combat elevated homocysteine and improve antioxidant status. Other ways to get antioxidants are glutathione and Vitamin C again. To reduce homocysteine, the body needs B-vitamins like in a B-complex or multivitamin. Make sure they’re methylated B’s or an absorbable form, NOT folic acid or cyanocobalamin.
PEMT governs choline metabolism which influences cellular integrity (think digestive organs) and hormonal balance especially as it relates to pregnancy and menopause when larger amounts of choline are needed.
Symptoms can include poor memory/forgetfulness, sluggish fat digestion or gallstones, and joint pain. Vegans may notice this more due to a lower amount of choline intake in the diet (choline is more concentrated in animal products).
Suggestions for PEMT balancing:
Eggs are a good source of choline
Betaine supports balanced bile production by the liver. Foods rich in betaine include beets, spinach, and broccoli.
Take home message for you:
If this seems confusing or overwhelming, just know the take-home message here is two things:
don’t determine your destiny. Lifestyle and diet win in the end.
Eating a varied diet is likely the best way to support balanced genes and therefore a balanced body. However, if genetics threw you a curveball, including or at bay. Use these concepts to prioritize and personalize your diet and
lifestyle to help achieve optimal health and balance.
Wanting to decode your genes? Again, I recommend Stratagene as a genetic test & am always happy to help demystify your results or provide guidance on recommendations for balancing through lifestyle and dietary changes. Click this link to book a no-strings attached intro call for more details on how we could work together to get to the root cause of your symptoms.