Nutrigenomics Might Be the Future of How You Eat

Medically reviewed by Kim Chin, RD, Nutrition — Written by Sarah Garone on March 16, 2021

This article is a repost which originally appeared on Healthline

Edited for content

Our Takeaways:

· Nutrigenomics is a field where a combination of disciplines merge to potentially optimize nutrition for individuals

· In addition to dietary optimization, nutrigenomics may also lead to more knowledge on finding and preventing health problems.

· Care should be taken when employing nutrigenomics as this branch of science is in its early stages.

If there’s one thing the last several decades of nutrition research have proven, it’s that there’s no one-size-fits-all diet. While many factors are at play, one reason certain eating plans work for one person but not another may have to do with our genetics.

Nutrigenomics is a fascinating, up-and-coming field that uses genetic testing to determine the interplay between genes, nutrition, and health. This information is used to help pinpoint the ideal diet for each individual.

Here’s a look at what nutrigenomics is, what you can expect if you try it, and how it might shape the future of personalized nutrition.

What is nutrigenomics? 

“Nutrigenomics is the study of the relationship between genomics, nutrition, and health,” says geneticist Jan Lim, MS, of CRI Genetics. “The field includes both the study of how the whole body responds to micro- and macronutrients, as well as the relationship between single genes and single gene/food compound interactions.”

You may sometimes hear this field referred to as “nutrigenetics.”

Technically, nutrigenomics refers to how nutrients influence your body to express genes, while nutrigenetics refers to how your body responds to nutrients because of your existing genetic makeup. However, many people use the terms interchangeably.

History of nutrigenomics

Though the science of nutrition genetics is still in its infancy, the idea that our genes can determine our best diet isn’t as space-age as it might seem.

In fact, as far back as the early 20th century, British physician Archibald Garrod is credited with establishing a connection between nutrition, genetics, and phenotype.

The Human Genome Project of the 1990s, which mapped out human DNA, paved the way for the modern era of nutrigenomics. Since then, hundreds of studies have examined genes’ influence on the body’s response to diet, as well as the other way around.

Today, it’s not uncommon for practitioners like dietitians and doctors to use genetic testing to assess patients’ dietary needs and set customized health goals.

Benefits

Genetic testing as part of nutrition counseling might sound rather extreme. A genetic workup just to see if you should eat low carb or get more vitamin C?

However, as part of an integrative nutrition approach, nutrigenomics can shed light on issues a simple health history can’t. This includes everything from a predisposition to heart disease to why you’re not losing weight when you’ve tried everything.

“Genomic testing truly is useful for anyone wanting to be proactive about their health,” says dietitian and certified genomic medical clinician Andrea Chernus, MS, RD, CGMC. “Genomic testing can help to explain why situations exist for a patient, such as which style of eating might suit them best.”

By looking at your genetic makeup, a practitioner may be able to advise you on certain eating patterns that will or won’t work well for you. For example, gene variants might mean your body wouldn’t benefit from a vegan diet or wouldn’t adapt well to a keto diet due to genomic tendencies for fat metabolism.

A nutrigenomic test can even uncover your personal best sources of both macro- and micronutrients.

Perhaps your body is unable to optimally use omega-3 fatty acids from plant sources, or you have trouble converting sunshine into vitamin D. With this data, a trained practitioner can instruct you on which foods to eat or supplements to take to meet your needs.

Likewise, predispositions toward certain diseases may show up on a nutrigenomics test.

“We may be able to see gene variants that increase one’s risk for breast cancer due to the genes involved in estrogen metabolism, for example,” Chernus notes. Heart disease, diabetes, obesity, and mental health have all been linked to genetic expressions, and all have dietary prevention strategies.

Empowered with this information, you can make preventative choices to mitigate risk through diet.

What to expect

Interested in pursuing a genetic approach to nutrition, but not sure what to expect? Nutrition counseling using nutrigenomics is surprisingly painless.

“The experience should start with a detailed health questionnaire so the practitioner has a complete understanding of the patient’s health status, history, family history, and current and past lifestyles,” says Chernus. “The actual test involves an at-home cheek swab. It’s typical for a test to evaluate anywhere from 80 to 150 or more genes. It’s quite simple to do.”

In some cases, if your results raise additional questions, a blood test may follow.

Once your test results are back, your dietitian or other health professional will evaluate them and work with you to develop an action plan for eating.

Potential drawbacks of nutrigenomics

Although extensive research has been conducted on the connection between genetics, diet, and health, the science of nutrigenomics is still emerging. “Nutrigenomics is a relatively new field of research, so we still have a lot to learn,” says Lim.

This isn’t to say that genetics aren’t a helpful piece of the puzzle when it comes to nutrition counseling. Just recognize that nutrigenomics won’t solve every diet conundrum, and that genes are just one of many factors that influence health and ideal dietary choices.

“Genomic testing should not be the sole criteria used to make recommendations,” says Chernus. “We need to include lifestyle, health history, health status, personal preferences, cultural identity, willingness of the patient to change, and their own health goals in our work.”

The availability of direct-to-consumer genetic testing for diet purposes, while it may seem exciting and convenient, is another potential drawback.

“The main drawback [of these tests] is that they’re not interpreted by a skilled clinician,” Chernus says. “Skilled practitioners use a polygenic approach: how all of the genes are part of bigger systems in the body. They interpret how these systems work together in the totality of one’s health.”

To understand the relationship between your own genome and diet, it’s always best to consult with a health professional who specializes in nutrition genetics.

Takeaway

“Every body is different” isn’t just true of our shape or physical type. It’s true down to the genetic level. Although nutrigenomics is a relatively new field that’s still gaining mainstream acceptance, many nutrition experts believe it’s the future of dietary counseling.

As part of a comprehensive nutrition philosophy that looks at the whole person, nutrigenomics could help people overcome health obstacles other approaches can’t.

“The more personalized our approach, the better the outcome,” says Chernus.

Sarah Garone, NDTR, is a nutritionist, freelance health writer, and food blogger. She lives with her husband and three children in Mesa, Arizona. Find her sharing down-to-earth health and nutrition info and (mostly) healthy recipes at A Love Letter to Food.

Healthline has strict sourcing guidelines and relies on peer-reviewed studies, academic research institutions, and medical associations. We avoid using tertiary references. You can learn more about how we ensure our content is accurate and current by reading our editorial policy.

Chernus A. (2021). Personal interview.

Ferguson J, et al. (2016). Nutrigenomics, the microbiome, and gene-environment interactions: New directions in cardiovascular disease research, prevention, and treatment.
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Lim J. (2021). Personal interview.

Mathers J. (2016). Nutrigenomics in the modern era.
cambridge.org/core/journals/proceedings-of-the-nutrition-society/article/nutrigenomics-in-the-modern-era/4DBAD038D30F9BB0900AF7F30999D388

Rana S. (2016). Nutrigenomics and its impact on life style associated metabolic diseases.
ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4869012/

Sandstrom A, et al. (2019). Offspring of parents with schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and depression: a review of familial high-risk and molecular genetics studies.
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Waalen J. (2014). The genetics of human obesity.
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How mRNA and DNA vaccines could soon treat cancers, HIV, autoimmune disorders and genetic diseases

The idea of using genetic material to produce an immune response has opened up a world of research and potential medical uses far out of reach of traditional vaccines. Deborah Fuller is a microbiologist at the University of Washington who has been studying genetic vaccines for more than 20 years. We spoke to her about the future of mRNA vaccines.

Below are excerpts from that conversation which have been edited for length and clarity.

This article is a repost which originally appeared on The Conversation
Deborah Fuller - January 6, 2022
Edited for content and readability - Images sourced from Pexels 

Our Takeaways:

  • Nucleic acid vaccines are based on the idea that DNA makes RNA and then RNA makes proteins.
  • These vaccines are effective at inducing a T cell response.
  • For cancer, the goal is to make your body better able to recognize the very specific neoantigens the cancer cell has produced and destroy it.
  • For autoimmune disorders, the vaccine would suppress the T Cells to keep the immune system from attacking myelin

How long have gene-based vaccines been in development?

This type of vaccine has been in the works for about 30 years. Nucleic acid vaccines are based on the idea that DNA makes RNA and then RNA makes proteins. For any given protein, once we know the genetic sequence or code, we can design an mRNA or DNA molecule that prompts a person’s cells to start making it.

When we first thought about this idea of putting a genetic code into somebody’s cells, we were studying both DNA and RNA. The mRNA vaccines did not work very well at first. They were unstable and they caused pretty strong immune responses that were not necessarily desirable. For a very long time DNA vaccines took the front seat, and the very first clinical trials were with a DNA vaccine.

But about seven or eight years ago, mRNA vaccines started to take the lead. Researchers solved a lot of the problems – notably the instability – and discovered new technologies to deliver mRNA into cells and ways of modifying the coding sequence to make the vaccines a lot more safe to use in humans.

Once those problems were solved, the technology was really poised to become a revolutionary tool for medicine.

What makes nucleic acid vaccines different from traditional vaccines?

Most vaccines induce antibody responses. Antibodies are the primary immune mechanism that blocks infections. As we began to study nucleic acid vaccines, we discovered that because these vaccines are expressed within our cells, they were also very effective at inducing a T cell response. This discovery really prompted additional thinking about how researchers could use nucleic acid vaccines not just for infectious diseases, but also for immunotherapy to treat cancers and chronic infectious diseases – like HIV, hepatitis B and herpes – as well as autoimmune disorders and even for gene therapy.

How can a vaccine treat cancers or chronic infectious diseases?

T cell responses are very important for identifying cells infected with chronic diseases and aberrant cancer cells. They also play a big role in eliminating these cells from the body.

When a cell becomes cancerous, it starts producing neoantigens. In normal cases, the immune system detects these neoantigens, recognizes that something’s wrong with the cell and eliminates it. The reason some people get tumors is that their immune system isn’t quite capable of eliminating the tumor cells, so the cells propagate.

With an mRNA or DNA vaccine, the goal is to make your body better able to recognize the very specific neoantigens the cancer cell has produced. If your immune system can recognize and see those better, it will attack the cancer cells and eliminate them from the body.

This same strategy can be applied to the elimination of chronic infections like HIV, hepatitis B and herpes. These viruses infect the human body and stay in the body forever unless the immune system eliminates them. Similar to the way nucleic acid vaccines can train the immune system to eliminate cancer cells, they can be used to train our immune cells to recognize and eliminate chronically infected cells.

What is the status of these vaccines?

Some of the very first clinical trials of nucleic acid vaccines happened in the 1990s and were for cancer, particularly for melanoma.

Today, there are a number of ongoing mRNA clinical trials for the treatment of melanoma, prostate cancer, ovarian cancer, breast cancer, leukemia, glioblastoma and others, and there have been some promising outcomes. Moderna recently announced promising results with its phase 1 trial using mRNA to treat solid tumors and lymphoma

There are also a lot of ongoing trials looking at cancer DNA vaccines, because DNA vaccines are particularly effective in inducing T cell responses. A company called Inovio recently demonstrated a significant impact on cervical cancer caused by human papilloma virus in women using a DNA vaccine.

Can nucleic acid vaccines treat autoimmune disorders?

Autoimmune disorders occur when a person’s immune cells are actually attacking a part of the person’s own body. An example of this is multiple sclerosis. If you have multiple sclerosis, your own immune cells are attacking myelin, a protein that coats the nerve cells in your muscles.

The way to eliminate an autoimmune disorder is to modulate your immune cells to prevent them from attacking your own proteins. In contrast to vaccines, whose goal is to stimulate the immune system to better recognize something, treatment for autoimmune diseases seeks to dampen the immune system so that it stops attacking something it shouldn’t. Recently, researchers created an mRNA vaccine encoding a myelin protein with slightly tweaked genetic instructions to prevent it from stimulating immune responses. Instead of activating normal T cells that increase immune responses, the vaccine caused the body to produce T regulatory cells that specifically suppressed only the T cells that were attacking myelin.

Any other applications of the new vaccine technology?

The last application is actually one of the very first things that researchers thought about using DNA and mRNA vaccines for: gene therapy. Some people are born missing certain genes. The goal with gene therapy is to supply cells with the missing instructions they need to produce an important protein.

A great example of this is cystic fibrosis, a genetic disease caused by mutations in a single gene. Using DNA or an mRNA vaccine, researchers are investigating the feasibility of essentially replacing the missing gene and allowing someone’s body to transiently produce the missing protein. Once the protein is present, the symptoms could disappear, at least temporarily. The mRNA would not persist very long in the human body, nor would it integrate into people’s genomes or change the genome in any way. So additional doses would be needed as the effect wore off.

Research has shown that this concept is feasible, but it still needs some work.

How the timing of dinner and genetics affect individuals’ blood sugar control

Eating dinner close to bedtime, when melatonin levels are high, disturbs blood sugar control, especially in individuals with a genetic variant in the melatonin receptor MTNR1B, which has been linked to an elevated risk of type 2 diabetes. The high melatonin levels and food intake associated with late eating impairs blood sugar control in carriers of the MTNR1B genetic risk variant through a defect in insulin secretion

This article is a repost which originally appeared on ScienceDaily
Massachusetts General Hospital - January 25, 2022
Edited for content and readability - Images sourced from Pexels 
Source: DOI: 10.2337/dc21-1314

Our Takeaways:

  • The melatonin receptor-1b gene (MTNR1B) has been linked with an elevated risk of type 2 diabetes.
  • Late dinner timing resulted in lower insulin levels and higher blood sugar levels for the entire group
  • People with the MTNR1B gene had higher blood sugar levels than those without this genetic variant.

Blood sugar control, which is impaired in individuals with diabetes, is affected by various factors — including the timing of meals relative to sleep as well as levels of melatonin, a hormone primarily released at night that helps control sleep-wake cycles. In research published in Diabetes Care, a team led by investigators at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH), Brigham and Women’s Hospital (BWH) and the University of Murcia in Spain conducted a clinical trial to look for connections between these two factors.

“We decided to test if late eating that usually occurs with elevated melatonin levels results in disturbed blood sugar control,” says senior author Richa Saxena, PhD, a principal investigator at the Center for Genomic Medicine at MGH.

For the randomized crossover study that included 845 adults from Spain, each participant fasted for eight hours and then for the next two evenings had first an early meal and then a late meal relative to their typical bedtime. The investigators also analyzed each participant’s genetic code within the melatonin receptor-1b gene (MTNR1B) because previous research has linked a variant (called the G-allele) in MTNR1B with an elevated risk of type 2 diabetes.

“In natural late eaters, we simulated early and late dinner timing by administering a glucose drink and compared effects on blood sugar control over two hours,” explains Saxena. “We also examined differences between individuals who were carriers or not carriers of the genetic variant in the melatonin receptor.”

The team found that melatonin levels in participants’ blood were 3.5-fold higher after the late dinner. The late dinner timing also resulted in lower insulin levels and higher blood sugar levels. (This connection makes sense because insulin acts to decrease blood sugar levels.) In the late dinner timing, participants with the MTNR1B G-allele had higher blood sugar levels than those without this genetic variant.

“We found that late eating disturbed blood sugar control in the whole group. Furthermore, this impaired glucose control was predominantly seen in genetic risk variant carriers, representing about half of the cohort,” says lead author Marta Garaulet, PhD, a professor of physiology and nutrition in the Department of Physiology at the University of Murcia.

Experiments revealed that the high melatonin levels and carbohydrate intake associated with late eating impairs blood sugar control through a defect in insulin secretion.

“Our study results may be important in the effort towards prevention of type 2 diabetes,” says co-senior author Frank A.J.L. Scheer, PhD, MSc, director of the Medical Chronobiology Program at BWH. “Our findings are applicable to about a third of the population in the industrialized world who consume food close to bedtime, as well as other populations who eat at night, including shift workers, or those experiencing jetlag or night eating disorders, as well as those who routinely use melatonin supplements close to food intake.”

The authors note that for the general population, it may be advisable to abstain from eating for at least a couple of hours before bedtime. “Genotype information for the melatonin receptor variant may further aid in developing personalized behavioral recommendations,” says Saxena. “Notably, our study does not include patients with diabetes, so additional studies are needed to examine the impact of food timing and its link with melatonin and receptor variation in patients with diabetes.”

Device Based Training, the Jelq Free Routine, Genetics, and Mindset: Ask The Experts

Big Al, of MaleEnhancementCoach.com, answers questions about Device based training, the Jelq Free routine, Genetic potential, and developing a positive mindset.

If you have questions you’d like answered in an Ask the Experts article, please PM Big Al.

Q. So you’ve proven that you can gain without using devices…

…something which other specialists don’t agree on!

Big Al: Most male enhancement trainees I know have made gains with manual exercises, though there are a few notables who’ve made massive gains with devices.

Q. I own a bathmate x30. Now with that I really see the benefits and I used it to warm up before doing your Jelq Free routine.

Many guys say that the bathmate is really the best thing out there. What do you think? It’s just a moment thing where you see the erection and vascularity?

Big Al: Pumping can be an excellent way of adding size, but a full pumping routine requires dedication- as results seem to accelerate once one is able to train past the 20-30 minute mark. For now, you may use the pump for your warm ups and warm downs. Use for 5-7 minutes each with very warm water and moderate pressure.

Q. Can I achieve the most of my genetic potential with just your Jelq Free routine and Bathmate?

In 3 years let’s say? Would my penis get used to that like any other muscle and stop growing. Or is the penis, a more easy to trick organ?

Big Al: The penis is composed of smooth muscle tissue- which is different from skeletal muscle. The exercises are passive in nature in how the muscle tissue is affected. That being said, few people ever approach their true genetic potential.

A good example of just how much expansion is possible (and even in a very brief time) can be seen here: Megalophallus. NOTE- The aforementioned link is NOT meant as an instructional guide!

The format of the Jelq Free is modular, so as you gain in conditioning we can switch out to more challenging exercises.

Q. What would you say about mental awareness during sex.

I heard pornstars think of bad things or unpleasant experiences during sex to last more. What have you discovered it works best for you in lasting more besides you usual routine?

Big Al: This is a good question, and your mention of pornstars puts it into a certain perspective. There can be negative conditioning effects when using outside stimuli during sex.

I HIGHLY recommend you review the following in full: The Detraining Effect: Understanding and Reversing Negative Habits To Improve Erection Quality and Sexual Confidence.