We are moving towards the day when medical advice will be truly individualized, meaning that it will be based at least in part on that which makes us unique - our genetic makeup.
Most are aware that we are each genetically programmed to respond to specific foods in a specific way. In some cases, people cannot tolerate alcohol due to the lack of a specific enzyme needed to metabolize alcohol, or have trouble with dairy products due to lactose intolerance. The response is uniquely our own and tied to our genes. This has to do with nutrigenetics.
Now look at it another way. We know there are specific triggers that can turn genes on and off (so-called genetic expression), but did you know that one of those triggers can be the way you eat? Therein lies the foundation for the field of nutrigenomics, where scientists study how dietary factors affect genetic expression.
When you think about it, the idea makes sense. We know there are certain dietary and lifestyle factors that promote health (healthy nutrition and exercise, for example), and some that are tied to chronic disease (smoking comes to mind). It appears that the way numerous factors, including the foods we eat, interact with our unique genes affects genetic expression and, thus, the health of our cells, our organs, our bodies, our minds. In the realm of nutrigenomics, the idea is to identify dietary interventions that can lessen the risk for, or actually treat, specific illnesses taking into account the unique genetic makeup of the person(s) in question.
One of the leaders in this field is Dr. David Heber out of UCLA, author of "What Color is Your Diet," a great read about the benefits of including a wide variety of colorful vegetables and fruits in your diet. I had the good fortune to hear him address the topic of genes and food at a recent conference and decided to offer a blog posting on nutrigenetics and nutrigenomics because you are going to be hearing a lot more about these fields of study. It won't be long before the information gleaned from work in these areas will serve to make our medical care, and our personal dietary recommendations, much more individualized.
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