Nutrition’s role in the war against chronic illness

November 27, 2018

Half of the adults in the United States are being treated for a chronic illness, and treatments often include dietary changes.  Just like prescription drugs, not everyone responses the same way.  Why is that?  Food is food, right?  (Not really, but for the sake of this post, let’s assume it is.)

The difference is in our genes.  The DNA in each and every one of us is slightly different.  Those differences can play a major role in how our bodies respond to different foods.  For example, minor variations, known as single nucleotide polymorphisms or SNPs, in the lactase gene are responsible for adults being able to digest lactose in dairy products.  Even though it is often easy to know when dairy products cause you digestive issues, understanding the genetics behind it is complex.  There are multiple SNPs and combinations of SNPs that allow you to digest lactose.  It doesn’t stop there.  Those SNPs are related to others that regulate calcium.

The genetic variations surrounding lactase are relatively simple compared to choline.  Choline is an essential nutrient found in high levels in fish, eggs, and nuts.  It is needed to remove fat from the liver. Choline deficiency leads to fatty liver in 90% of people and muscle damage in the remaining 10%.  The tricky part is that minimum amount of choline needed varies person to person.  As it relates to the risk of fatty liver, the variation is due to how fast choline is metabolized, how quickly fat can be transported out of the liver, the mthfr gene, and body mass index.  Not just that, but also all of the SNPs in all of the genes that are involved in choline metabolism and fat transport.  When it comes to the risk of muscle damage due to choline deficiency, the variation is due to SNPs affecting the transport of choline into the muscle cells and how fast choline is metabolized.

The interaction between nutrition and genetics becomes increasingly complex with chronic diseases.  Scientists examine the genes involved and the effect of different SNPs on gene function as well as factors like nutrient metabolism, absorption, and storage.  As more is understood about the links between nutrition, genetics, and disease, we can all adjust eating habits accordingly.  Make sure you’re reading the ETP blog regularly for the latest scientific findings and insights.

If you’re interested in the scientific details, check out the following scholarly journal article.

National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine; Health and Medicine Division; Food and Nutrition Board; Food Forum. Nutrigenomics and the Future of Nutrition: Proceedings of a Workshop. Washington (DC): National Academies Press (US); 2018 Jul 25, 61 – 84.

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