The human genome project was completed in the late 1980’s. The information and data gained from the project continues to evolve. On a big picture level the project defined things like the number of genes humans have and the importance of bacterial health in human health as 3 bacteria types were also sequenced along with our human genome as we cannot separate them from us.
As a nutritionist I am interested in this as much of the genome project has led to new and rapidly advancing nutrition science. Prior to the project most people thought that we inherited a set of genes from each parent and because of this we were destined for the same health issues they might have had. We now know that is not necessarily true as our genome interacts with the environment around us every day and this interaction can alter genetic expression. When we consider the environment is it important to note this includes things like:
Lifestyle – do you exercise, smoke or drink regularly, sleep well? are you active daily in your occupation vs sitting, indoor a lot vs outdoors, live in a city or rural
Nutrition – we are what we eat and as human’s we eat all day every day, because of this food can be a major influence on genetic expression and health, food essentially speaks to our genome
Toxins – certainly our environment is not as healthy as it once was so we have to consider the impact of not so clean water and air, exposures to chemicals and other toxins at home or at work, plastics, etc.
The information from the genome project helped to define the roll of specific genes and more importantly genetic code with specific health issues. Companies like 23andme now provide genome testing for 99 dollars when just a few years ago it might have cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. Many of the patients I work with complete 23andme testing to better understand what specific nutrients they might need more of, how well their detox systems work, how they metabolize specific nutrients, drugs and toxins, in general trying to optimize metabolism/health.
If you are interested in learning more you can go to 23andme.com for more information. From 23andme you can get a lot of information related to genealogy along with your raw genetic data. You then have the option to take your raw genetic data to other websites for interpretation.
In nutrition practice we can use this information to demonstrate the importance of diet/lifestyle for optimal health or performance but also to investigate metabolism of specific nutrients related to performance, healing or health issues. Below are a few examples of the specific genes we might look at:
MTHFR – related to folate metabolism, homocysteine, B vitamins (see my post on B vitamins)
FADS2 – conversion of omega fatty acids
FUT2 – GI absorption of vitamin B12
FOXO3 – associated with stress and longevity
NBPF3 – impacting vitamin B6 levels
BCMO1 – conversion of beta carotene to vitamin A
PEMT – affecting liver phosphatidylcholine synthesis
CYP2R1 – conversion of vitamin D to the active version
Remember, this is a new science and we are only beginning to understand how to best use this information. It makes sense that the body adapts genetically to the environment around us on a daily basis; it also makes sense that adaptations the genome might make for short term survival might have long term consequences for our health. Our goal should be to influence genetic expression in a positive way via our daily environmental exposures, most importantly food. Genetic data should only be one of the many tools in our toolbox of healthcare. My goal in providing this information is to empower people to take charge of their own health.
More information on Dr Rhonda Patrick