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Research for decades has sought to understand just how the food you eat and the lifestyle you live impact your genes. Evidence consistently shows that what you eat can not only affect your DNA but can impact generations beyond yours.
Francis M. Pottenger, Jr., MD—one of the namesakes of our foundation—was one of the first to conduct experiments on how food quality could impact both immediate health and the health of offspring for multiple generations. His work was with cats, but modern research continues to demonstrate similar evidence in the way that human diets and lifestyles not only affect how genes express, but can also lead to epigenetic changes.
What Is Nutrigenomics?
Nutrigenomics is the study of how nutrition and genes interact with each other, especially when it comes to how nutrition may prevent or reverse disease processes. Nutrigenomics is related to the field of epigenetics, which is the study of how your lifestyle and environment can influence how your genes respond and behave. Epigenetics does not refer to actual DNA changes—your genetic code stays the same. However, your DNA can be expressed in different ways, depending on how your genes interact with your nutrition, environment, and other factors. So, you can eat and live in a way that lets your DNA work optimally, or your DNA can express itself in suboptimal ways in response to stressors, inflammation, nutrient deficiencies, toxins, and more.
You have no control over your DNA. You are born with what you are born with. But you do have a say over how your body is fueled and the environment that you expose it to. In these ways, you can eat and live for genetic health, or you can be one of the many who experience health challenges because your genes don’t have what they need to function as they should.
Ultimately, nutrigenomics stated more simply is the science of personalized nutrition. A diet that works for you may not be ideal for someone else. Two people could follow a ketogenic diet, for example, and one could lose weight and feel amazing and the other could feel hungry all the time and struggle to get by. Your body is, genetically, not like anyone else’s. Your diet should serve to meet your body’s needs.
How Do You Eat & Live for Personalized Nutrition & Wellness?
Much like choosing the right diet for you can feel complex, realizing that your entire diet and lifestyle have the power to change the way your genes behave can feel daunting. The good news is that you are not stuck with poor health. From the moment that you make changes, your DNA and cells can start responding. In his work, Pottenger found that even the sickliest cats that he worked with could make notable improvements in just a short period of time. Their beneficial changes were then passed down to their offspring, and so on.
You don’t need a science degree or even an interest in genetics to put the principles of nutrigenomics to use in your life. When you feel energetic, well, balanced in mood, and otherwise healthy, chances are you’re feeding your body in ways that are supporting your optimal DNA expression.
But if you routinely experience any of the following, it may be a sign that your diet and/or lifestyle are not meeting your body’s needs at a genetic and cellular level:
- Digestive problems
- Chronic or metabolic disorders
- Mood disorders
- Inflammatory problems
- Heart disease or high blood pressure
- Lung problems
- Bone problems
- Skin problems
- Hormone imbalances
- Reproductive challenges
And so on. This is not an exhaustive list!
Some may wonder if they need DNA tests to optimize their health. The answer is no. Pottenger was not obsessing over specific genetic variants or trying to fine-tune a diet based on specific DNA. You know your body better than anyone else and are best qualified to take note of how you feel, and how the food you eat and the environment you live in impacts you.
If you do feel that you need professional help, there are many nutritionists who are skilled in integrative and functional nutrition approaches, which take into account your bio-individuality—another way of saying that your genes make you like no one else.
Today’s Simple Step
While there is no one-size-fits-all diet, there are some general principles that do apply to everyone. The human body was designed to utilize nutrients from whole foods and from natural nutrient forms. This doesn’t exclude supplements, but it does increase the need to consider the form of nutrients found in them. (We will discuss supplements more in tomorrow’s post!)
Feed your body foods that it can recognize: whole, unprocessed foods that are not lab-created, filled with “fake” ingredients, and loaded with added sugars.
This Lamb Kidney Stew is an excellent recipe for nourishing your genes. Organ meats are nutrient-rich, and this dish also contains mushrooms that are rich in vitamin D and onions that provide gut-friendly prebiotics to support a healthy bacterial balance.