Two women of the same age, weight, and height, live the same lifestyle, consisting of a diet high in sodium and processed foods, and low in fruits, vegetables and other plant foods. One of them goes on to develop high blood pressure, blood sugars and high LDL – cholesterol, while the other lives a life absent of any such health issues. How can there be such different health outcomes for two people who lead identical lifestyles?
That is what an area of research, called nutrigenomics, is trying to determine. It is the study of the reciprocal relationship between genes, diet and health outcomes.
While population-based research has been the gold standard for the basis of dietary recommendations, there are always outliers that don’t respond to dietary recommendations in the same way as the majority of people. These individuals are said to have genetic variants which, when expressed, can affect their nutritional status in many ways. For example, a person’s genetic sequence can impact their nutrient requirements, metabolism, appetite, taste, and risk of chronic disease in response to their diet.
Researchers believe there are potentially thousands of genetic variations that can be affected by diet. Areas that have made some headway in research include: requirements for Vitamin C, calcium, iron and vitamin B12; the role of saturated fats on the risk of obesity; the impact of caffeine on cardiovascular health; the importance of a whole grain diet on preventing type 2 diabetes; and the impact of sodium on blood pressure to name a few. Because your genes are unique to you, a nutrigenomics test can help you make informed lifestyle choices, especially when coupled with a trained nutrigenomics counsellor such as a Registered Dietitian who can thoroughly explain the implications of your test results with you.
Not all genes are always expressed however, and researchers have yet to figure out how to determine whether or not a given gene becomes expressed or not. In the meantime, Registered Dietitians use a variety of tools: inquiring about an individual’s personal and family medical history, symptoms, following a patient’s lab work, along with performing nutrigenomic studies, to individualize nutrition care plans with more precision, making clients more successful at achieving their health goals and preventing chronic disease.
Editors Note: This article was originally published in 2014 and updated in 2019. As of April 1 2019, Nutrigenomix is being available to clients in Calgary and Edmonton, with plans for expansion to BC in May 2019.
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