We’ve all experienced diet-related concerns at some point in our lives. Whether it be managing food allergies, wanting to shed some extra kilos, wondering why we didn’t get the results from a diet that we expected or just wanting to know whether our daily coffee is doing us any harm. What if knowing all of this, including our predisposition toward certain health conditions, was possible? Well, it is, and it’s called nutrigenomics.
What is nutrigenomics?
Nutrigenomics is the study of how our diet, nutrient supplements and other environmental factors such as chemicals and toxins interact with our genes and influence our health. It’s a relatively new area, which focuses on how our genes are affected by our lifestyles and vice versa. The reason why the health community is so excited about nutrigenomics is that it will enable people to take control of their health and understand more about the genes they inherited from their parents.
Just as your height, and eye and hair colour are pre-determined by your genes, which are made up of DNA nutrigenomics uses your DNA to discover whether you’ve a tendency to put on weight easily, be susceptible to diseases such as diabetes or cardiovascular disease, or whether you are more likely to have difficulties conceiving. It is not possible to change your genes but you can, through diet and lifestyle, influence how well they work and improve your overall health and wellbeing.
What does the test involve?
Here’s the science bit. A swab from the inside of your mouth or saliva is collected. The swab or saliva sample is then sent to a lab and tested. From this, selected genes known as your genetic profile are tested and mapped out: everything from how your body reacts to drinking coffee, to your tendency to gain weight, and even what type of exercise your body is more suited to. Nutrigenomics allows you to see which foods or nutrients you may need more or less of for optimum health. It also helps you to understand if you are more sensitive to environmental pollutants, because you may not get rid of them of them as well as others based on your genes.
Even if you think you’re leading a healthy, balanced life, you could still benefit from nutrigenomics. For example, if you’re sitting all day, eating on the run, or snacking mindlessly, then your diet could use a few tweaks.
Some people who think they’re eating well will realise when they go over their results with their health practitioner that in fact they’re not eating as well as they could be, and this is especially important when it comes to pregnancy and couples trying to conceive. More and more couples in Australia and around the world are finding it difficult to fall pregnant for various reasons and therefore a personalised approach can help many improve their health to increase the chance of falling pregnant and having a healthy baby.
Start these changes now to improve your future health
Clean up your environment: this not only includes the toxins around you, but the products you put on your skin and use in everyday life. Numerous chemicals are now present in our water, beauty products and on our fruit and veg, which can have a negative effect on our health, fertility and birth outcomes.
Consider going organic – in all areas of your life – wash your fruit and veg before eating, and drink filtered water as often as possible.
Look at your family tree of health: if your parents suffer from certain diseases, speak to your GP or health professional about changes you could make to prevent suffering the same.
Supplements can help: You cannot replace a good diet with supplements but what you can do is support it with good quality supplements. If you’re having trouble conceiving, for instance, taking a quality multi vitamin with folate and other important micronutrients.
Begin a food diary: this will help you see just how much and what type of food you are eating daily, and where calorie-laden or processed foods are unknowingly sneaking into your day.
Write down your ideal future health: is it a fit, healthy person? A health professional can help you plan for the future, by providing you with an exercise program, dietary advice, and lifestyle changes you can make to be the best you can be.
Dr. Denise Furness will be speaking at the 5th BioCeuticals Research Symposium in April to present to healthcare practitioners on this topic.
Dr Denise Furness is a molecular geneticist, registered nutritionist and registered exercise professional. She conducted her PhD at CSIRO Human Nutrition, before completing a postdoctoral fellowship with the University of Adelaide’s Research Centre for Reproductive Health. Specifically, her research investigated folate nutrigenomics, methylation and DNA damage in relation to pregnancy outcomes. She has published her work in peer reviewed medical journals and regularly presents at national and international conferences. In 2012 Denise shifted from an academic research position to a consulting role at “Your Genes and Nutrition”, helping patients and practitioners understand the role of nutrigenomics and genetic testing in relation to various health outcomes. In particular, Denise is passionate about helping couples achieve optimum health and wellness to improve their chances for natural conception and healthy pregnancy outcomes. In addition, she holds regular educational seminars and workshops discussing the links between our genes and our environment and how these impact on our health throughout all the stages of the life cycle.