The Effect of Genetic Factors on Nutrition: Our Genes Are Not to Blame

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The Effect of Genetic Factors on Nutrition: Our Genes Are Not to Blame

Every single individual is genetically unique and has diverse needs. If we are all so different genetically, why do we think that our bodies require the same nutrition? We have to listen to our genes because they have different relationships with each food and those relationships are unique to us. As the field of research in molecular biology grew, new areas of study were born, such as nutrigenomics and nutrigenetics. Nutrigenomics studies the effect of food on gene expression, while nutrigenetics study the impact of genetic variations and genetic factors on diet. The relation between nutrition and genes is two-sided, implying they both have an influence on each other. Let’s find out about this relation in a more comprehensive way.

Nutrigenomics: The influence of food on genes

What we consume and our DNA are in constant communication, meaning the food we eat can change our gene expression both in a good or bad way. Nutrigenomics studies the way nutrition alters the functioning of a gene and investigates the interaction of food and DNA at a molecular level. For example, what we consume can elevate or lower a protein’s production, which is needed for digestion. At the end of this mechanism, digestion is altered by the food we consume. Besides digestion, inflammation, cell growth, the immune system, and many other mechanisms can be the target for this change.

Previously, it was a known fact that micronutrients, like vitamin A and D, have an effect on gene expression. Now, the diverse and deep research on nutrigenomics showed that macronutrients, such as carbohydrates, lipids, and protein also have an impact on gene expression.

Key points on nutrigenomics:

-Some nutrients influence diseases in some individuals.
-Diet may change the gene expression and structure.
-Genetic variation may initiate, develop, or worsen a chronic disease.

Nutrigenetics: The effect of genetic factors on nutrition

Nutrigenetics explores another aspect of genetics and nutrition. Our genetic code can influence what we eat, and this is the area of study for nutrigenetics. Some people can’t digest milk, while others can. Some people can bloare after consuming gluten, while others don’t feel discomfort. Different genetic variations can react differently to a certain food because of Single Nucleotide Polymorphisms (SNP). SNPs are the single nucleotide variation in the genome. These variations make you atypical compared to the majority of the population and change the way your body utilizes nutrients. It should be noted that SNPs generally don’t code a new gene, but rather affect the protein synthesis rate.

Genetic variability causes partial differences among individuals in these processes:

-Metabolism rate
-Food absorption
-Molecule transport

Genetic factors may affect your iron, B12, and vitamin D absorption, and these vitamins can’t be produced by your body. The most known nutritional deficiency caused by genetic factors is Lactose Malabsorption. It generally shows the symptoms commonly known as lactose intolerance. Basically, the lactase enzyme is required to break down lactose into glucose and galactose. Most humans can produce this enzyme. Some people with genetic variations don’t have enough lactase enzymes and therefore cannot break down lactose. These kinds of differences in enzyme activity require a personalized diet, or your life quality may go down due to this genetic factor.

How does nutrition affect our health?

According to research, there is evidence that DNA instability, gene alterations, and DNA methylation, which initiates and develops cancer, are influenced by nutrition. As we all know, environmental factors are as important as genetic factors for cancer development, and nutrition is the number one environmental factor for this case. Again, there are variations in cancer development, related to the same food in different individuals. The genetic factors are, again, not the only indicator in cases of cancer. The vitality of nutrition and affected genes shouldn’t be neglected. 

The Importance of Personalized Diet

We always tend to blame genetic factors for our weight, height, diseases, and aging rate. Genetic factors definitely have a major impact on these elements, but it's not the only indicator. Nutrition also has a role. It influences the modification of genes. In order to maximize our health, we should get away from the generic diets and focus on what our body wants.

Health professionals and medical authorities support individualized and targeted diets and treatment. For the optimal health of an individual, diet, environmental factors, lifestyle, the genetic background should all be in sync with each other. 

Still, there are some factors that are beneficial to nearly everyone:

-Drinking water
-Exercising in the most suitable duration and method
-Eating whole foods 

Besides genetic variations, there are some things that apply to all of us. It's a known fact that some foods are beneficial for our DNA, so long as there is no intolerance or allergy and some environmental factors are harmful to all of us.

For example:

-Blueberries are high in antioxidants that reduce DNA damage.
-Air pollution can tag our DNA, which can cause neurodegenerative diseases.
-Vitamin B can protect us from pollution.

Overall malnutrition, eating less or excessively, affects gene expression negatively. Furthermore, it can affect DNA stability, meaning your DNA becomes more prone to mutations.

Knowing what your body can and can’t do might help you to have an easier life. Discover the capability of your body, observe and determine what to consume and what to avoid. Listen to your body and see how it reacts to certain foods. Rather than using a standard diet based on weight, gender, or age, follow a personalized diet considering your unique genetic makeup. This doesn’t mean that you should refuse to try every diet, including the healthy ones. The key point is to apply it to yourself.

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