With just a few simple tests, you can optimize your nutrition specifically for you.
Have you ever wished you had access to the tools and resources that could give you a better understanding of what’s happening ‘underneath the hood’? Have you wondered if there’s something that you’re missing? There are a few simple labs, some you can even order yourself and do at home, that you and your physician can order to give you a more customized and specific picture of you and your health.
I’ve had a few clients and patients really struggle with reaching their goals to lose weight, perform better, or even gain weight. I’ve also had patients and clients struggle to get healthy, despite the fact that they are making really good healthy choices. It can be a frustrating process when you are doing everything right with nothing to show for it. In this article I talk about your genetics, how nutrition and lifestyle affect your genetics, labs you can run to get a better picture of what’s going on with your body, and a plan to help you get started.
This is why you want to test, create a plan, implement the plan, and then re-test.
Nutrigenomics is a relatively new science. According to Dr Mark Hyman, “The new science of nutrigenomics teaches us what specific foods tell your genes. What you eat directly determines the genetic messages your body receives. These messages, in turn, control all the molecules that constitute your metabolism: the molecules that tell your body to burn calories or store them. If you can learn the language of your genes and control the messages and instructions they give your body and your metabolism, you can radically alter how food interacts with your body, lose weight, and optimize your health.” (2006)
A lot of nutrition research in the past was based on certain diseases that were associated with particular vitamin and/or mineral deficiencies. Treatments included specific pharmaceutical grade supplementation of that specific nutrient to treat, heal or “cure” the disease. A few examples include Vitamin D and Rickets, and Vitamin C and Scurvy. Although neither of these diseases are seen very often anymore (since most “foods” are now fortified with essential vitamins and minerals), it is still common for many people and medical professionals to think of specific nutrients for particular diseases.
However, this is becoming an older perspective. In fact, more researchers and physicians are finding that the way nutrients interact with the body are much more complicated. Most diseases currently are a result of multiple factors and issues from poor nutrition and lifestyle choices. Often, it isn’t just one correction that needs to be made. Diseases and illnesses now often require multiple nutrients, a different diet, different lifestyle etc. You can see some of this at work looking into your genetic code…
Single Nucelotide Polymorphisms or SNPs
If you or anyone around you has ever said, “you are your genes”… they are referring to the fact that your genetic code makes you who you are. Your genes make the proteins that help your cells do their jobs, they create metabolites to help your body fuel and function, and they also carry code for disease/illness. People carry certain genetic diseases, illnesses and disorders from generation to generation and they don’t always express themselves. So, why do some people get sick and not others?
Epigenetics is a term that encompasses the connection between lifestyle, disease and our genetic code. Although the study of both nutrigenomics and epigenetics has barely scratched the surface, it is becoming more clear that lifestyle and nutrition are linked to genetic expression. In other words, with nutrition and lifestyle changes you can have a significant influence on whether or not a “bad” gene is expressed.
One thing we start to look at when we look into the genetic code of a person is SNPs – Single Nucleotide Polymorphisms. Let’s say you start with a human with a “perfect” genetic code – no diseases, illnesses etc. In that person’s lifetime as they are exposed to toxins in the air, water, cleaning supplies, mold, allergens, smoke, drugs, alcohol, pesticides, plastics, poor nutrition and stress (to name a few), the genetic code can form SNPs. These are often negative and they can mark the precursor for disease. They are a morphological change and response in your genes.
What scientists and researchers are finding, is that lifestyle and nutrition can affect how these SNPs are created and how they are expressed. For example, in one study they found that women who consumed less fruits and vegetables than the daily recommended requirement were at a greater risk of developing breast cancer because the lack of nutrients could create a ‘polymorphism’ or a change in the genetic code that causes a protein change (in this case valine to alanine). Down the line, this change disrupts an enzymatic process (specifically manganese dependent superoxide dismutase).
Basically, that enzyme is responsible for keeping certain organelles in your cells happy. When those small structures and powerhouses inside your cells can’t do their job, it creates a toxic environment. That toxic environment over time can lead to diseases like cancer. So, when humans don’t get adequate nutrients from their food and the body sustains a nutrient deficiency for too long, genetic changes occur and predisposes us to disease.
Your genes, your nutrition, your labs, your goals
There’s plenty of research to explain why lab testing is important (see resources below). It isn’t just for your yearly physical checking your platelet size and cholesterol levels. You can utilize lab testing to create baseline markers for your nutrient levels. If there’s a notable deficiency, you can do something about it. If you test overtime, you can often catch problems much sooner.
If you recall talking about your genes and how it relates to nutrition from earlier, those same SNPs can affect how you absorb vital nutrients from your food, as well. SNPs can make it harder for you to absorb nutrients like Vitamin B, Vitamin C etc. Meaning you’ll need more of it from your diet and supplementation than your friend or family member sitting next to you. A simple test can show you all of your SNPs and give you a lot of information that you can use to make your own customized nutrition plan.
For example, there are SNPs that can affect your iron absorption. Anemias (including iron anemia) are common among women and athletes. The human body does not have any specific way to get iron out of the body, meaning how your body regulates the amount of iron you have in your body is through absorption through your food. The C282Y mutation of the HFE gene is only one example of a SNP that can affect how someone absorbs iron. But, if you have that SNP that is positive on your test, you may be at a higher risk of iron anemia. Now, if you have a history of being anemic, pair that with this test and you can create a nutrition plan that incorporates a slightly higher iron content to help your body get enough iron.
In another example, this study published in Science Direct discusses many different diseases of today. There are several studies that have shown that some of the major pathways that lead to different types of cancer are affected by nutrients. They even reference a further study on the protective effect of dietary fibers against bowel cancer.
Athletes are prone to nutrient deficiencies AND many illnesses and diseases are due to chronic nutrient deficiencies.
Active individuals and athletes are at an increased risk of nutrient deficiencies because of the stress on the tissues, the energy production pathways, the loss of nutrients through sweat and just simple dietary requirements based on body composition.
If you want to work on your nutrition from a sports performance perspective, or you want to heal from or manage your chronic disease better, consider getting some more information of what’s going on behind the scenes.
What tests to order
- Ask your primary care physician for a CBC and Chem panel if you haven’t had blood drawn in over 6 months.
- Also request a nutrient and metabolite panel. Ideally, you would see each nutrient and mineral, and you would see if you are high, low, or in the normal range. I often use a lab called Genova Diagnostics for this test.
- You can order a test online like 23&Me or research other genetic tests that can give you information and give you a nutrition recommendation based on the results of the test. You can even have a geneticist order a test for you, but these at home tests are getting better accuracy ratings and are at least a good place to start. *** If you don’t want to know if you carry a certain gene for a disease or illness, I would skip this test.***
There are so many tests out there, do some research on ones that have been third party tested for accuracy. Just any “do at home” test may not give you accurate results.
What to do with the results
If you aren’t sure what to do with the results start the process with these few simple steps:
- Look at the reference ranges. Sometimes the values a lab gives you are more like guidelines. With a little research you might be able to find some research showing “optimal values”. Compare your results to those and see where you stand.
- Identify any low, high or irregularities. Write down the results of your tests looking for any values that are high or low. Depending on the value, you may want a higher than normal or lower than normal number.
- Research, Research, Research. Look at your results in relation to your goals or symptoms you’re trying to solve. Then start your searching. Read some of the latest research related to your test results. See if you can find an article that correlates your results with your goal, symptom or condition. Make sure to read the whole paper. Often times the abstract only tells a piece of the story or could be completely misleading.
- Make Trackable Changes. Whenever you make changes to your routine, make them trackable. For example, if you decide to just start eating better, make a plan to eat a certain numbers of vegetables a day. That way, when you look back on your day you can determine whether you did or did not, then make changes for tomorrow. If it’s taking a supplement, determine how long you will need to take it before you need to retest.
- Retest. The timelines for retesting can vary significantly depending on the issue. A good general rule of thumb is to retest every 3-6 months until your levels are normal. I also recommend re-testing certain baseline tests every year, especially if you are an athlete. Catch the problem early so that it doesn’t become a significant problem later.
With so many tests that are available, you have an incredible amount of resources available to help you hack your biochemistry and create a nutrition program that is specific for you and your goals.
Did you find this helpful? What tests have you used to give you more information about your health? Let us know in the comments below, or find our post on social media!
If you’re looking for help with sports nutrition or for help with anything from chronic migraines, to hormone imbalances, digestive issues to autoimmune conditions, and you’re tired of the conventional approach, I might be able to help. Our Sports Nutrition programs and Functional Medicine programs include specialty labs in the monthly membership price to help with cost and to save you time. Dr K will walk you through your results and help you put together a plan customized to you. Then she will help you implement it over the next few months, changing anything as necessary until it’s time to re-test again. Get started today, send her an email at [email protected].
Alegría-Torres, J. A., Baccarelli, A., & Bollati, V. (2011). Epigenetics and lifestyle. Epigenomics, 3(3), 267-77.
Chang Li and Hai-Meng Zhou, “The Role of Manganese Superoxide Dismutase in Inflammation Defense,” Enzyme Research, vol. 2011, Article ID 387176, 6 pages, 2011. https://doi.org/10.4061/2011/387176.
Fairweather-Tait, S. J., Harvey, L., Heath, A. L., & Roe, M. (2007). Effect of SNPs on iron metabolism. Genes & nutrition, 2(1), 15-9.
Jang, H., & Serra, C. (2014). Nutrition, epigenetics, and diseases. Clinical nutrition research, 3(1), 1-8.
Munshi A, Duvvuri VS. Nutrigenomics: looking to DNA for nutrition advice. Indian J Biotechnol. 2008;7:32–40.
Oregon State University. “Poor Athletic Performance Linked To Vitamin Deficiency.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 27 December 2006. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2006/11/061116091853.htm>.
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