The long-term goal of molecular medicine, as well as molecular nutrition/nutrigenomics, is to have personalized healthcare that takes into account an individual’s genetic, environmental and infectious disease profile. The combination of components that interact to cause multifactorial health problems may be different in every individual. There may be slight or enormous changes in the relative contributions of each of these components to disease. Personalized medicine enables your cells to get the specific support they require to be balanced. “individualized healthcare, once a seemingly utopian fantasy, is steadily gaining ground as a rational approach…” (Nature Medicine).
The field of nutrigenomics is the study of how natural products and supplements can interact with particular genes to decrease the risk of diseases. By looking at an individual’s particular DNA in these nutritional pathways it enables one to make supplement choices based on personalized genetics, rather than using the same support for every individual regardless of their unique needs. With knowledge of imbalances in nutritional genetic pathways it is possible to utilize combinations of nutrients, foods and natural nucleotides to bypass mutations and restore proper pathway function.
Nutrigenomics integrates concepts in molecular biology and genomics to study the ability of foods and nutritional supplements to interact with genes to influence our health and lower the genetic risk component for multifactorial disease. This field of nutrigenomics is perhaps best described by the group that is dedicated to promoting this new science of nutritional genomics. According to the National Center of Excellence in Nutritional Genomics at UC Davis, “The science of nutrigenomics seeks to provide a molecular understanding for how common dietary chemicals (i.e., nutrition) affect health by altering the expression and/or structure of an individual’s genetic makeup. Just as pharmacogenomics has led to the concept of “personalized medicine” and “designer drugs”, so will the new field of nutrigenomics open the way for “personalized nutrition.” In other words, by understanding our nutritional needs, our nutritional status, and our genotype, nutrigenomics should enable individuals to manage better their health and well-being by precisely matching their diets with their unique genetic makeup.”
The nutrigenomic results that I analyze in my protocol focus on genetic weaknesses in a particular pathway that I call the Methylation Cycle. (This analysis is available at no cost at www.knowyourgenetics.com.) This central pathway in the body is particularly amenable to nutrigenomic screening for genetic weaknesses. Defects in this cycle lay the appropriate groundwork for the further assault of environmental and infectious agents and can result in an increased risk for additional health conditions including diabetes, cardiovascular disease, thyroid dysfunction, neurological inflammation, chronic viral infection, neurotransmitter imbalances, atherosclerosis, cancer, aging, neural tube defects, Alzheimer’s disease and autism.
By looking at diagrammatic representations of the Methylation Cycle and relating the effects of genetic polymorphisms to biochemical pathways, we are able to draw a personalized map for each individual’s imbalances which may impact upon their health. By identifying the precise areas of genetic fragility, it is then possible to target appropriate nutritional supplementation of these pathways to optimize the functioning of these crucial biochemical processes.
Four basic steps have been defined as working to deduce information in our genes to developing personalized healthcare. These steps include,
- “Defining the functional elements of the human genome,
- determining which genes or pathways are altered in a disease state,
- discovering inherited sequence patterns contributing to disease,
- applying genomics information to improve clinical practices” (Wills, R. Modern Drug Discovery).
Molecular medicine will eventually be able to use sophisticated drugs that are concerned with precise mechanisms of action to accomplish this task. “We’re saying if we know what changes in genetic make-up drive a particular disease, then we can design a drug tailored for the individual requirements of that patient” (Burke, M., BioPeople). Improved diagnostics permit better drug dosing to identify the percentage of patients that will respond to customized treatments. “Though the cost and logistics of implementing individualized therapy may appear to be prohibitive…the value of targeted therapy …and the appeal of customized therapy is evident” (Nature Medicine). This is underscored by the recent finding that only patients with a certain genetic makeup gain any benefit from particular commonly prescribed drugs. The study helps to support the concept of personalized medicine, the choice of drugs that work best for an individual patient based on genetic testing (Chasman, D., JAMA).
Nutrigenomics uses natural products to affect cellular and molecular processes. “Most of chronic diseases are related to cellular alterations which can, in part, be influenced by nutrients. Similarly, the efficiency of therapeutic drugs can be modulated by nutrients” (International Society for Molecular Nutrition and Therapy).
Both disciplines, molecular medicine as well as nutrigenomics, take advantage of the strides made in the Human Genome Project that allow us to utilize simple genetic tests to look at our genetic weaknesses.
The goal of the Human Genome Project was to identify all the approximately 25,000 genes in human DNA and to determine the sequences or “spelling” of the 3 billion chemical base pairs that make up human DNA. This project was completed in June of 2000.
As a direct consequence of having the complete sequence of the human genome, research has focused on identifying particular genes that are involved with specific diseases. The challenge is to identify disease causing genes and clarify their roles. “The advent of microarray technology has accelerated the pace of gene expression analysis, allowing the simultaneous analysis of thousands of genes” (Salowsky, R., BioPharm International).
While the first step that emerged from the Human Genome Project has been to identify genes associated with a particular disease, the next step is to use this information to look for the presence of these genes in an individual person. Rather than looking at complete gene profiles it is also possible to look at particular changes in the “spelling” of your DNA in only specific areas of interest. In this way, you can more quickly get a sense of known genetic weaknesses. Companies that offer this service enable you to look at twenty or so genes of interest that may affect your susceptibility to heart disease, inflammation, detoxification or simply your ability to absorb nutrients.
In order to find relationships between genetic changes and the susceptibility to disease this testing is done utilizing single nucleotide polymorphisms otherwise known as SNP’s (pronounced snips). This process systematically compares genomes of those individuals with a disease or a known health condition to the corresponding DNA of a healthy population. To identify a SNP is a very arduous and time consuming process, as there may be 400 or more genes in a shared region making it difficult to identify changes and trends. However, once it has been identified, making practical use of this information is quick and straightforward. Small differences in these SNPs not only reflect susceptibility to disease but may also affect how people respond to drugs (Abbott, A. Nature). These new genetic testing systems will enable the testing of a patient’s genes before prescribing any drug. Thus, the doctor will know in advance if a drug is potentially lethal or ineffective for them.
As recently as ten years ago, this technology was only a vision in the future “the new tissue samples that patients can submit on their own, as from a swab from their cheek, are not yet ready to allow us to totally profile out nutrient needs” (Check, E., Nature). Yet today, this ability exists to personalize nutrition based programs that are based on our individual nutrigenomic profiling.