In “Beauty Avenue” we discuss every aspect of healthy eating, fitness and wellness. So today, with the help of Dr. Marta Mihaylova, a geneticist at the Department of Medical Genetics at Medical University Sofia, we will explore the world of nutrigenetics and nutrigenomics. Don’t let these difficult words scare you, we are simply talking about how our genes interact with the different nutrients.
What is important to know about the two sciences is that they are relatively new and deal with the influence of our genotype on nutrition and the impact of food on our genotype. Accordingly, nutrigenetics aims to identify how genetic variation affects response to nutrients, while nutrigenomics studies the effects of foods on gene expression.
Genes determine the body’s response to the intake of nutrients, nutritional supplements and vitamins. Some genes can affect the rate of absorption, metabolism or excretion of the nutrients we consume, as well as the toxins that come from the environment. This reaction may vary and determines not only the extent to which the nutrients will be absorbed but whether they will have a beneficial or harmful effect on one’s health.
“I will give you a simple example,” says Dr. Mihailova, “the so-called omega 3 and omega 6 fatty acids which people like and buy as supplements, are extremely beneficial, indeed, but some people don’t know that omega 6 is found in most foods, while omega 3 in some, thus they overdose with omega
6. The excessive consumption of omega 6 fatty acid leads to an increase in inflammatory processes.
Many of us have a genetic predisposition for increased inflammatory response, and that’s not good. So here’s how the food can have a very direct impact on our health. “
The knowledge of how genes are influenced by external factors allows for the development of personalised health programs to help patients with chronic illnesses. It also provides disease prevention and health improvement, as well as support in workout training plan customisation for physically active people.
Moreover, by adapting our lifestyle and diet to the specifics of our genes, we give our children the chance to be healthier and stronger.
“It is very important for people to know that we pass on the genetic information — half comes from one parent, the other from the other parent — so responsibility is indeed common and many substances damage the DNA. Ultimately, we can pass this on to our children and they will pay the price of our mistakes. It all matters — what we eat, the way we live, the stress we bear, the air we breathe, the cleaning products we use. This, however, does not mean we should become sterile and overwhelm about the choices we make, but we can avoid certain harms.”
The DNA analysis is done once in life. Besides being available to the general public, another good news is that it is never too late to start living in line with your body needs.
According to Dr. Mihailova, it is never too late to positively influence the genes expression. “Of course, here I want to clarify — we can not change our genetic material with food or the way our DNA is engineered, but we can influence the expression of the genes. Thus, improving the functioning of our body or compensating for something that genetically does not work very well.”
“Of course, it is best if you know your genetic base earlier. For example, analysing your child’s genes so you can properly design their diet and way of life from an early age. This way you will prevent the child from suffering deprivations later in life in the case of genetic risks of diabetes, osteoporosis, or poor liver detoxification. The sooner, the better, but it is never too late to start living healthier, because even if a disease occurs, with a better way of life, we can relieve the symptoms or postpone the complications. And so to extend our lives. ”
Human DNA consists of over 3 billion base pairs, 99% of which are identical among individuals. The remaining 1% contains small variations, known as single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs). SNP is a genetic variation that leads to a single base change in the DNA sequence of a gene. SNPs can have a very significant effect on the functioning of the genes they are in. This in turn affects the biological pathway in which the particular gene is active, reflecting the metabolic functions that are important for maintaining a healthy state.
Dr. Mihaylova further reveals: “In these tests, we can get very complete information about the different genes we have. And that can show whether these gene variations form properly functioning proteins or some of these proteins do not work well and we can do something to compensate for it.”
Since genetic research in this area involves personal and extremely specific patient information, this requires an adequate interpretation by a physician geneticist to analyse the results. After the basic analysis, the findings could be used in the work of a number of specialists — dieticians, endocrinologists, physicians and others, depending on the genes studied.
“I can give you two interesting examples. One of a young woman aged 20 and over, whose profile showed increased risk of high blood pressure due to several gene-related reasons. This was explained to her, but she claimed feeling good and did not believe she could experience such problems at her age. But after all, she had decided, because of my tactical insistence, to keep track of her blood pressure. And she later called to thank me for saving her life because she had found that her blood pressure was at 180/120 on a regular basis, which meant that it had been rising for a long time, the brain had adapted to these conditions and she did not feel it. However, she was still at risk of heart attacks, strokes and other cardiovascular diseases. It was one case in which we felt extremely useful.
Another case was of a lady who realised she was not absorbing vitamin D at all, and that one of the collagen’s polymorphisms, which is a basic structural protein, is also not at its best. She received serious recommendations from us, contacted an orthopaedic traumatologist, checked her bone density, and found out that she already had severe osteoporosis. This way she found the reason for her bone and joint pain. Of course, she took the necessary measures.
In these are situations we even helped to diagnose, although we are not doing that. We aim to provide prevention, but we’ve also been helpful in such cases.”
A video coming soon: How is the test being conducted and analysed by specialists.