Recent science shows that food is not only calories…it is information to our genes. We’ve always known you are what you eat….but we now know that food literally turns on and off gene expression. We are born with a certain set of DNA…but your DNA is not your destiny. It has been said for years that 1/3 of your risk for disease is your genes…but 2/3’s is what you do with your genes. Do you get enough sleep? Eat whole foods or fast foods? Are you exposed to chemicals on a regular basis? Carry your cell phone 24/7? Do you get any exercise? Smoke? You get the point. We all make choices on a daily basis and over time they add up and either protect us or become chronic disease.
Nutrigenomics is the study of food and its effects on genes. This area of research explains why some people can eat a high fat diet and have no problem with their cholesterol levels while others experience the exact opposite response. Genetically, we are like snowflakes and only identical twins have the exact same DNA.
What do we know in this field so far? Lots! With more to come. Researchers have identified compounds found in broccoli that switch on a specific gene that helps the body detoxify some of the harmful chemicals we’re sometimes exposed to. But, because this gene is missing in about 20% of the population, some people won’t benefit from the detoxifying properties of broccoli, although they probably still benefit from its antioxidant effects.
Individuals who had a ‘slow’ version of the gene that breaks down caffeine in the liver have an increased risk of a heart attack when increasing consumption of caffeinated coffee. However, those who have the ‘fast’ version of the gene, have a lower risk of heart attacks with moderate intakes of caffeinated coffee (1-3 cups per day).
Green tea is known to have several beneficial phytochemicals, but a number of studies are now showing that some people break down these compounds more slowly and probably don’t need to consume as much to get the same benefits.
These kinds of studies mean we no longer have to play a guessing game. Genetic testing is becoming more commonplace and my prediction is that in the next 5-10 years, it will be commonplace before your doctor prescribes a drug, because we all metabolize so differently.
The future is individualized, customized medicine. I am working hard in my practice to already put this in place. Many genetic tests are now available and can help you sort through what type of exercise is best for you, risks for bone loss, genetic variants that affect detoxification and hormone metabolism, how well you are aging, risk of Celiac disease and more.
It’s an exciting time for sure! Stay tuned for more on this throughout the year!