Nutrition, aging, and your genes - Shelley Cavezza, PhD

Nutrition, aging, and your genes

Nutrigenomics or nutritional epigenetics is an emerging and very exciting area of interest for many concerned with improving their health and wellbeing. This discipline focuses on the mechanisms underlying gene-diet interactions and in particular how nutrition can affect age-related disease development or prevention. Epigenetics is defined as a modification to gene expression without actual changes in the underlying sequence of DNA.  In other words, not all of our genes are active at any one time and depending on the things we do, genes will activate or deactivate. Diet is one of the things that affects gene expression. This is a result of molecular-level interactions between nutrients and our DNA and ultimately impacts on the determination of our phenotype (the observable characteristics of an individual) as compared to our genotype (the genetic makeup of an individual).

Epigenetic changes are a normal part of life and have been observed from early in embryonic development throughout the aging process.  However, abnormalities in epigenetic patterns have been identified as instrumental in many age-related diseases such as cancer, cardiovascular disease, and brain degeneration.

Studies to date have focused on nutrients such as the B vitamins which are involved in metabolism, namely the methylation cycle.   This is a biochemical pathway that participates in a wide range of critical body functions, including: detoxification, immune function, maintaining DNA, and energy production. Other nutrients and bioactive food components such as resveratrol, curcumin, sulforaphane and green tea polyphenols have also been identified as able to modulate epigenetic patterns by altering the expression levels of many inflammatory molecules.

If we know our genetic profile, we can work towards optimising how well our genes function for improved health outcomes.  Each individual has a different genetic profile and therefore each person has different nutritional requirements. It means that we are not subject to just our inherited traits but we can modify the expression of our genes to promote health.  Fortunately, genetic profile testing and analysis is now available both in Australia and overseas. It is best done as part of a functional nutritional approach which integrates diet choices with lifestyle, environment, and health concerns to maximize the potential for health. We all want to be healthy, but most of us haven’t figured out just how to make food and dietary patterns serve that goal. Functional Nutrition in combination with genetic profiling offers the concepts, strategies, and tools to make that happen; including weekly food and shopping schedules, healthful recipes, as well as steps to achieve mindful eating.