Nutrigenomics and nutrigenetics are two red hot areas of scientific research that simply look at the relationship between your diet and your DNA. Foods completely tailored to my unique body? Yes, please! While it may seem like something out of a sci-fi movie, researchers have made great strides over the past two decades, ever since nutrigenomics and nutrigenetics have been a “thing” in the scientific community. Now, let’s get real for a second. Scientists are not there yet; there is still a wealth of discoveries to be made. But it is a very real, very promising field that has already presented some interesting and useful findings. And I feel extremely lucky to have been one of the pioneer scientists in the field, back when it was simply called just looking at how nutrients interact with genes.
Back then (meaning the early 2000s), we used molecular biology, a field not all that associated with nutrition at the time, to assess how nutrients and other food components directly impacted DNA and vice versa. In fact, my entire PhD dissertation focused on how soy isoflavones (special food components found in soybeans and soy foods) can enter cells and interact with DNA to influence fat burning and fat storage. In essence, for that study, we were ultimately trying to figure out why people with higher soy intake tended to weigh less and have better metabolic health outcomes. We made some really amazing discoveries (summary here ), and I’ve been hooked ever since.
Today, researchers have identified numerous variations in thousands of genes that are involved in how your body utilizes the foods you eat. These, often very simple, differences between people’s genes can result in very different outcomes. It can range from how nutrients are absorbed (e.g., a mutation in your lactase gene that ultimately causes lactose intolerance) to a single genetic “anomaly” or variation that causes some people to lose more weight with a low-fat diet than those on the same diet but without the anomaly. When it comes to food choices, it may leave you wondering, “what can I be doing for my body?” The fields of nutrigenomics and nutrigenetics aim to address that question exactly and more.
What Exactly is Nutrigenomics and Nutrigenetics?
Nutrigenomics is the study of the comprehensive, global interplay between nutrition and your genome. It includes looking at how the foods you eat affect the expression or “reading” of your...
Yes, a DNA diet, meaning a diet that takes your unique genetics into account, can work if you are looking at the right genes to address your dietary concern. A very simple and straightforward example of a diet that takes your genetics into account is the PKU (phenylketonuria) diet. It’s a diet based on only one genetic variation: a mutation in the gene that encodes for a protein which helps build an enzyme needed by your body to breakdown phenylalanine. Come again? It’s a mutation that causes your body to not process phenylalanine properly. Oh, okay. And what’s phenylalanine? In addition to being a spelling nightmare, phenylalanine is one of the 20 amino acids your body uses to build protein. Long story short, if the mutation ultimately takes away the ability of the body to breakdown phenylalanine, it builds up causing some serious damage if left untreated. How do you treat it? Great question! Through diet. The PKU diet is a diet that limits phenylalanine; since it’s an amino acid, it’s found in protein foods. So, meats, poultry, fish, dairy, beans nuts, etc. are off limits. A PKU diet consists of low-phenylalanine veggies, some low protein pastas and rice, and nutritional shakes and supplements to help ensure people get all the other amino acids and nutrients they need. If the diet is followed, those with the genetic mutation can expect to have a healthy, normal life.
I used the PKU diet example because it’s easy to demonstrate the point. But chances are, most people wondering whether a DNA diet “works” are wondering more along the lines of: Will a comprehensive analysis of my DNA be able to provide me with optimal dietary recommendations? That’s the million (dare I say billion?) dollar question, and I do believe that we will get there one day. But that day is not today.
Why? Because to have a genuinely optimal diet based on your comprehensive DNA, we would have to first know how each gene (and all their unique variations) that make up human DNA affect all aspects of diet, and the science is not there yet. So, where is it then? Still emerging, but also making headway when it comes to determining the interplay between genetics and diet on more focused topics such as the PKU example above, vitamin deficiencies and usage, and weight loss ability. Before I dive into promising research on just how well DNA diets can work, let’s define what a DNA diet is and how these types of diets are created.
What Exactly is a DNA Diet?
It’s not rocket science. Or molecular biology (cheesy, I know). A DNA diet is just a diet based on your...