Nutrigenomics – Understanding the Healing Power of Foods

“It’s in my genes”

How often have you heard that as an excuse from someone defending his obesity or may be, a disease like diabetes.

You know those skinny characters who never gain an ounce despite the fact that they eat so much and then there’s poor me- who gets fat just by looking at a candy bar!

Sure! We all blame it on the genes.

Gene = fate. That’s how most of us view it . But what if we have the power to change those genes and dictate our own fate?!

Wow, sounds like a good theme for a  science fiction movie.

Studying Relationships between Human Genes, Nutrition and Health

Nutritional genomics is a science studying the relationship between human genes, nutrition and health. It has two subdivisions.

Nutrigenomics studies the effect of nutrients on health and how these nutrients can change our genes and cell functions resulting in physical changes in our body. These studies look at how particular foods impact, either positively or negatively, on a person’s health depending on their genes. In more simple words Nutrigenomics studies how food can change your genes.

Nutrigenetics – studies on how people respond to nutrients depending on their genes – the differences in people’s DNA – the absorption, transportation and metabolization of nutrients vary from one person to the next.

Well! They sound pretty much the same, don’t they?! After a bit of head scratching, I have simplified it to –

Nutrigenomics -How diet affects genes

Nutrigenetics – How genes affect diet

Anyway, what concerns us here is – how diet affects our genes – so let’s stick to just Nutrigenomics for now.

The Five Principles of Nutrigenomics

Nutrigenomics is gaining more attention in the recent years due to its potential for preventing, mitigating, and treating chronic disease and certain cancers by means of small, yet highly effective dietary changes.

The research in this field have helped confirm certain claims about various superfoods helping us cut through the whole myth or truth confusions.

Along with the principles, I have mentioned just a few revelations from Nutrigenomic researches. These are just a tip of the iceberg.

The basis of Nutrigenomics can be explained by the following five principles:

1. What you eat may save you or kill you

Diet has the potential to be a severe risk factor for numerous diseases under certain situations.

Consider this cautionary advice on maternal diets during pregnancy from Nutrigenomic studies:

A research conducted by the Department of Biosciences, Federal University of Sao Paulo recorded that: “The maternal nutritional condition and fatty acid intake during pregnancy and/or lactation are critical factors that are strongly associated with normal fetal and postnatal development, which influence the modifications in fetal programming and in the individual risk for developing metabolic diseases throughout life.”

Fetal exposure to trans fatty acids appears to promote early deleterious effects in the offspring’s health, thereby increasing the individual risk for developing metabolic diseases throughout life.

2. What you eat can modify your genes

Common dietary chemicals can affect the human genome, either directly or indirectly, to modify gene expression or arrangement.

What you eat can change your genes. This can create or prevent diseases. You have the power to make those changes by changing  what you eat.

Nutrigenomic studies revealed gene networks linking metabolic and brain disorders.

A research conducted by the Department of Integrative Biology and Physiology, University of California, used nutrigenomics to study the effect of food on our genetic tendencies to develop certain diseases. whether certain foods have any healing potential on metabolic and brain disorders. They found that an omega-3 fatty acid called DHA, correct the gene damage caused by fructose,[sugar] and can help heal diet-induced metabolic and brain disorders.

Metabolic syndrome is dangerous because when individual conditions are seen together in a person, the likelihood increases for heart disease, stroke and diabetes. Diabetes mellitus is the most common endocrine/metabolic disorder.

3. No two people are the same

The extent to which diet has an impact on the balance between healthy states and disease states may be contingent on an individual’s genetic makeup.

Two people may react differently to the same food based on their genetic make up. Lactose intolerance is a good example here. Children of the same parents – one child is allergic to milk while the other is not. What is healthy for one person may not work in the same way for the other one due to the difference in their genes.

Lactose intolerance in infants is caused by mutations in the LCT gene. A gradual decrease in the activity of the LCT gene may lead to lactose intolerance in adults over a period of time.

4. Your diet may be the deciding factor in whether you develop certain diseases

It is probable for certain diet-regulated genes, as well as their standard, common variants, to be a factor in the onset, prevalence, advancement, and/or severity of chronic diseases.

You may be prone to certain diseases, but your diet may be the deciding factor in whether you develop that disease and how severe it gets. You may have a strong family history of diabetes. But the right type of diet can ensure you never develop it. This is applicable to most chronic diseases including heart disease and certain cancers.

A research conducted by the Laboratories of Nutritional Genomics, Brazil found that diets rich in omega 3 fatty acids helped reduce inflammation and  improved  insulin sensitivity in subjects with obesity-induced insulin resistance.

Omega 3 fatty acid supplementation was also found to positively affect the liver genes of newborns in a study conducted by the Sackler Faculty of Medicine, Tel Aviv, Israel.

5. Knowledge is Power

Dietary mediation centered on knowledge of nutritional requirement, dietetic status, and genotype can be applied to inhibit, mitigate, or cure chronic disease.

This knowledge is your power. The right combination of foods can prevent, reduce or cure a chronic disease. But you need to know what these foods are. Here just one small example:

A research from the Department of Health Sciences, Gettysburg College,USA. studied the effects of omega 3 fatty acids on resting metabolic rate, body composition, and cortisol production in healthy adults. They observed that a 6 week of supplementation with Fish Oil significantly increased lean mass and decreased fat mass. They also noted remarkable reductions in stress levels by measuring cortisol levels.   

The Conclusion

Nutrigenomics is an exciting, emerging field with a lot of promise in how we might treat and prevent disease through nutrition.

Chronic inflammation is the root cause of almost all diseases – Arthritis, IBS, asthma, allergies, heart disease, cancer, Alzheimer’s and even diabetes. These are diseases that clearly  improve or worsen depending on what you eat. Holistic nutrition is not just a way to feed yourself better, it also helps calm inflammation and heal your body.

You need to pay extra attention to your food habits especially when you are sick, to ensure that your body gets all the nutrients it needs for healing itself. Viewing your food as ‘functional medicine’ helps you make wiser decisions on what and when to eat in order to make the best decisions for healing your body and  improving your health.

Let thy food be thy medicine and thy medicine be thy food.

– Hippocrates (460-377 BC)

About Tilottama Bose 69 Articles
With a Masters in Food Science and Nutrition, Tilottama has carved a niche for herself in the Health Writing Industry. She is passionate about helping her readers make informed decisions about the food they eat. She believes in the healing power of food and in food as medicine. Tilottama is an editor and writer at