The field of Genomics is regarded as one of the biggest revolutions in medicine in years. It is poised to change the way we make lifestyle choices forever. Personalised advice allows for precise, predictable and preventative health care that is customized for the individual patient. 

The emerging field of Genomics (including but not limited to sleep genomics, exercise genomics, stress genomics etc) studies the interactions between one’s genetic profile and the environment of multiple lifestyle patterns that are in relationship with the genome via the epigenome.  Nutrigenomics is currently the largest area of genomics research. For the patient, this means that accredited practitioners can offer personalised dietary advice, focusing on the correct nutrient intake - something that has always been of interest and seldom appropriately addressed.

Nutrigenomics is the influence of diet on gene expressions, in other words how food impacts genes. What we eat can influence whether a specific gene is actively doing what it should (or shouldn’t) be doing. Nutrigenetics works the other way. The gene pathway affects the food and the way the individual responds to it. Research in this field is growing at an exponential rate. An international collaboration called The Human Genome project successfully mapped all 25 000 genes of the human species. The information from identifying and mapping human DNA has opened up many fields of gene research including the impact of diet on genetic make-up.

One of the most important findings of research in this field is that genes, alone,  do not dictate our destiny. It is very important to know about our genetic variations but not to worry about being predestined to develop disease risks. Knowledge about an individual patient’s genetic variations offers a powerful health advantage to a skilled practitioner to prescribe precise lifestyle and nutritional recommendations aimed at compensating for the genetic variants. If one inherits genes for a certain disease, lifestyle choices can change the expression of these genes. Research has shown that early detection and appropriate intervention can significantly reduce disease risk.

Nutrigenomics works with low-penetrance genes. These are not predictive of disease like high penetrance genes are. High penetrance genes refer to large portions of chromosomes or entire chromosomes and generally have a major impact. They convey a high probability that the effect will be expressed and visible. For example, inheriting the gene for cystic fibrosis means that will almost certainly be negatively affected by the disease (no matter what we can currently do about it). Low penetrance genes convey susceptibility to disease and are predominantly Single Nucleotide Polymorphisms (variation in a single nucleotide at a specific position). It is for this reason that diet and lifestyle changes can influence whether the gene is expressed or not.

Sample collection is non-invasive and simple. It is in the form of a cheek swab. It does not involve blood tests and needles. The swab is then sent to the laboratory in a sealed, tamper-proof package. The DNA is extracted from the swab and then analysed using a process called Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR), which amplifies tiny quantities of DNA to detectable levels, before looking for specific genetic variations, or SNPs in the DNA. The results are presented in a report, which provides information about the genes tested and the individual’s results describing their impact on the relevant metabolic or biochemical pathways. It is here that a skilled practitioner is required to interpret the findings and produce prescriptions and suggestions for addressing the highest priority findings.

There is no one size fits all approach and individual knowledge of your genes allows the dietician to personalise and target dietary recommendations to the next level. You will understand more about your specific needs, based on your unique genetic make-up. The result will be a report and lifestyle recommendations that will work for you, and only for you – a truly personalised and unique programme.