What is Nutritional Genomics?

An apple a day keeps the doctor away and we are what we eat. English is rife with idioms and sayings about food and health. But how wise is this old-timey wisdom? If we look at nutritional genomics–the study of how what we eat affects the way our genes are expressed and thus influences our health–these sayings have at least a bit of truth to them.

Nutritional genomics (or nutrigenomics) has been gaining publicity recently as researchers have seen that what you eat can prevent, treat, or even cure some diseases–even ones we are genetically predisposed to. The food we eat (and the chemicals in it) can, and does, fundamentally alter the ways our genes are expressed.

The most common example of this is studies showing the effects of BPA on rats (to my knowledge, no studies have been conducted on humans)–rats of the same genetic makeup exposed to BPA ended up obese and their fur even turned blonde (compared to the brown of their control brothers and sisters).

All of this was chalked up to BPA acting on the rat’s DNA and making some genes more difficult to transcribe, even putting them in an “off” conformation. If genes are turned off, then important proteins can’t be made, and that changes how individuals show their traits.

Nutritional genomics is very interesting me for a whole heap of reasons. First and foremost, it is a leap forward toward disease prevention, which can improve the quality of life for a lot of people who would otherwise be managing a disease. Being able to prevent chronic diseases, like cancers which some of us are predisposed to or heart disease (the number one killer of women in the United States), with something as simple as figuring out your personalized nutrition recommendation would be so awesome from a healthcare perspective.

I am also interested in nutritional genomics for vanity’s sake: everything from the glow and appearance of our skin to how lush and shiny our hair is can be traced back to what we eat. Hair, skin, and nails are all made of up of many proteins. It’s important to take care of the genes that produce them–collagen and keratin are two important proteins that jump to mind.

This is just a short intro to nutritional genomics–expect more to come as I delve into more research on it!


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