Genetics and gene expression have gained popularity over the last several years. Words like epigenetics, MTHFR, genome and nutrigenetics have become popular key words in the health and research industry. But what do they actually mean, and how important is it?
Epigenetics refers to changes in gene expression (not the genes themselves).
MTHFR is a gene (part of the genetic code) and a ‘MTHFR variant’ is a mutated gene, or a changed gene.
Genome is the sum total of your DNA (including all genes and non-coding DNA).
Nutrigenetics is the study of the relationship between genes, diet and health outcomes.
It was once a strong belief that your genes are your future. We once thought that if you have the MTHFR gene mutation, then you are going to experience digestive issues, migraines, nerve pain, depression, chronic fatigue, etc. What we are starting to understand now is that the presence of a gene mutation is not a guaranteed life-sentence. What we have come to understand is that our conscious choices in our day-to-day life have a significant impact on our genetic expression.
The presence of a gene mutation should be viewed with interest. This mutation should be seen as either an indicator of why you are feeling this way, or as an indicator for what may develop, or what you are susceptible to.
Enter the ‘genome’. Some people are interested in identifying their genetic material and being aware of their genetic potential. While this can be a good idea, it can create stress and anxiety for what illnesses could potentially eventuate. Being aware of the MTHFR gene mutation, or the BRACA1 gene mutations are examples of tests people are commonly looking at. For some, the knowledge of their genetic potential is a motivator for a healthier lifestyle. For others, it is a cause of anxiety and stress for what may develop at some point in the future. I suggest you consider your personality and decide how the results of a genetic test may impact your lifestyle – will it give you sleepless nights, or maybe give you permission to be unhealthy, alternatively, will it make you a healthier person, or will you simply decide now to make all those healthy choices you have been avoiding, regardless of a test result? Knowledge is power, but in this case is it healthy or likely to create harm?
Is important to know? Or should you simply ‘be healthy’ in your choices regardless?
Enter nutrigenetics; the study of diet on genes, and the health outcomes.
If you have a MTHFR gene mutation, what should you do? – in short, the answer is to eat more green and leafy vegetables, ensure your bowels are working regularly, consider regular detoxification and maintain a ‘healthy’ life balance (an ideal sleep, stress, relaxation balance). What should you do if you want to live a healthy lifestyle and you don’t know if you have the MTHFR mutation – the same as the above. What is the difference? You are aware of your potential doom and gloom and it may make you lose sleep. Alternatively, you are aware of your genetic potential, and it may help you stay on a healthy pathway.
Yes, there are those who are significantly impacted by their MTHFR genetic mutations and these lifestyle changes are simply not enough. Keep it in perspective.
Perhaps one of the most beautiful things about nutrigenetics, is your epigenetic influence – put simply, just because you have the gene, doesn’t mean you have a ticking time-bomb to ill health. Just because your parents are obese with diabetes, doesn’t mean you are going to become obese with diabetes. You can influence how your genes are expressed. Not all your genes, but a noteworthy amount. You are not destined to the ill health your parents experienced. You have a level of control. It comes down to your choices.
Your environment and your choices can turn gene expression on and off. While we don’t know everything about the genome and epigenetics just yet, we do know that the effect of nutrition on genetic expression is modifiable. Diet plays a huge role. Lifestyle does too. See below for some nutrigenetic and lifestyle tips.
- Diet plays a huge role in healthy epigenetic expression and methylation. Simply put, eat your vegetables. Eat them at every meal, and ensure you have green leafy vegetables in the mix. Aim for a rainbow of colours and aim for vegetables to make up the majority of the meals.
- If you’re not getting ‘it’ (everything) from your diet, get it from a supplement. Speak with our Naturopath and Nutritionist team to see what is right for you.
- Ensure adequate sleep. ‘Adequate’ varies from person to person but aim to get at least 6 hours of quality sleep every night.
- Stress less. Easy to say, not always easy to do. Sit down and consider what is important in life. Think logically about how you can prioritise the important things, and work on prioritising these. Prioritise ‘me-time’ and ensure you are getting enough relaxation (daily!). Apps like ‘headspace’ and ‘calm’ may help, playing an instrument, colouring, reading, epsom salt baths and socialising are all great options for relaxation.
- Consider a low glycemic load and anti-inflammatory diet – this style of eating is rich in methyl donors – making it great for DNA. Speak with our Naturopath and Nutritionist team to see what this diet involves and if it is suitable for you.
- Consider intermittent fasting or intermittent ketosis – this may favourably influence epigenetic expression. Speak with our Naturopath and Nutritionist team to see what this dietary change involves and if it is suitable for you.
- Exercise, within your limits, and regularly.
Your genes are part of who you are – they are what connects you to your ancestors. You don’t have a choice in what you get. You can influence how your genes are expressed. Choose wisely.