An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

Although dietitians are often helping people manipulate their diets to treat disease, like diabetes and irritable bowel syndrome, a sizable chunk of a dietitian’s practice is preventive care.  We guide people with pre-diabetes through dietary changes so they may avoid developing diabetes.   We counsel overweight people on modifying their eating behaviours to lower their risk of weight-related conditions.  And now, we can walk people through the mysteries of their genes and advise on which foods they should eat to prevent nutrient deficiencies and reduce the risk of weight gain and heart disease.   We’re able to do this thanks to a Toronto biotech company called Nutrigenomix that specializes in understanding how our genes and diet interact to shape our health.

See the end of the blog for a brief review of the science of genetics.

In my humble opinion, the next revolution in healthcare will be genetic analysis / gene therapy (along with stem cell therapy).  While this field is currently in its infancy, rest assured that it’s growing!  Nutrigenomix recently increased the number of genes they assess from 7 to 45!

Using a simple saliva test, Nutrigenomix analyzes your genes and produces a user-friendly report on the results (click HERE to see a sample report).  With a clearer picture of the way your genes influence how your body deals with nutrients, we can personalize your eating plan like never before so you can reap the most benefits from your diet.  (Read more about Nutrigenomix HERE).  Project Nutrition is proud to offer not only Nutrigenomix services, but also accompanying nutrition counselling to help you make meaningful dietary change so you can truly benefit from the results of your tests.

Bear in mind that the test does not diagnose.  It merely reveals risk factors based on your genes.  Because there are many risk factors involved in health conditions like heart disease, the genes that Nutrigenomix evaluates are not the only ones involved in your health risk.   Preventive health care (ie. preventing diabetes, heart disease, cancer, etc) is all about mitigating risk.  The fewer risk factors you have for a condition, the less likely you’ll fall prey to it.  That said, even people with few risk factors develop conditions they never expected.

Regardless of some of the limitations of genetic testing in 2017, I was very eager to partake. I’m sure I’ll develop a chronic illness some day, like most people, but I want to do what I can to prevent it or at least delay it.  I’ve seen how people suffer through chronic disease.   I’ve cared for people who need tube feeding because they lost their ability to swallow after a stroke.  I’ve seen frustration and anger in people who are struggling to manage pain.  I’ve gone bleary eyed as patients cried in my office, depressed over how their diabetes is ruling their life.

So, a couple months ago I spat in a tube and shipped it off to Toronto for analysis.  Saying that I was surprised by my results is a bit of an understatement.  As I quickly reviewed my report, the only word I could think was “whoa.”  Of the 9 vitamins and minerals evaluated, I had an elevated risk of poorly metabolizing 6 of them: vitamins A (beta-carotene), B12, C and D, folate, calcium, and omegea-3 fats.  Basically, if I’m not consuming the recommended daily amounts of these nutrients every day, I’m at risk of developing deficiencies.

Most people don’t consume the recommended daily amounts for every nutrient every day, but that doesn’t mean they’ll develop a deficiency because each person’s body has slightly different requirements.  I clearly have a high requirement for the aforementioned nutrients in order to compensate for my body’s poorer processing of them.

I have a healthy diet, like any dietitian, but I doubt I’m consuming the recommended daily amounts every day.  I could take supplements to ensure I get enough of what I need, but I prefer food first, and I know that real, whole foods are infinitely better at promoting health and preventing disease.   Plus, excessive use of supplements can cause problems too, like toxicity that is seriously harmful.

So my mission is simple: make a few dietary changes to serve the needs of MY unique body.

Vitamin B12.  It’s not hard to get enough B12 if you eat animal products every day.  As a dairy and meat eater, I’m confident that I get enough. Lately I’ve been eating mainly apples, bananas, and blueberries, which aren’t rich sources of vitamin C, so I switched to kiwis, oranges, cantaloupe and red pepper.

Vitamin A.  I enjoy milk, and luckily for me, it’s fortified with the active form of vitamin A that my body needs.  I’m increasing my milk to also address calcium and vitamin D, so increasing my milk kills 3 birds with 1 stone.  I am also making sure that I eat an orange vegetable every day – carrots, squash, sweet potato.   While my body’s metabolism of beta carotene (plan form of vitamin A) is impaired, it never hurts to eat more orange vegetables!

Folate.  This one could be challenging.  The best sources of folate are legumes, dark green veg, pasta and bread (because flour is fortified with folic acid in Canada).  While I eat a dark green veg (asparagus, peas, beets, Brussels sprouts, potato with skin, spinach) and either pasta or bread every day, I doubt I get the recommended daily amount of folate.  Vegemite (marmite) is an outstanding source of folate, so maybe I’ll give this a try…

Calcium.  In re-evaluating my diet since receiving my test results, I realized that somehow, I manage to eat cheese almost every, and cheese is an excellent source of calcium.  I also drink ½ cup milk with most suppers.  To boost my calcium intake, I’ve started cooking my oatmeal in milk and eating almonds every day.

Vitamin D.  See Calcium.  Also, I’ve increased my intake of fatty fish, which contains vitamin D, and I do take a vitamin D supplement every day as is recommended given Canada’s northern latitude.

Omega-3 fats.  I’m going to address my relationship with omega-3s in next week’s blog, where I’ll also post links to some excellent salmon recipes I’ve been experimenting with lately.

Nutrigenomix tests for other foods and nutrients, behaviours and tendencies that I didn’t discuss today, but I chose to focus on the nutrient metabolism results because they were the most striking to me.

If you have any questions, you’re more than welcome to email them to andrea@projectnutrition.ca

Thanks for reading!
-Andrea

PS – Genetics: The Basics

A gene is a segment of your DNA.  Genes possess instructions for making proteins that allow your body to function.  Genes are made of nucleotides called A, T, C and G that pair up in a sequence that consists of a chain or pairs.  An example of a pair is AA.  A hypothetical gene could be a chain of the following pairs: AA, AG, TC, CC, GG, GA, TT, TT, TC, AA.  The only pairs that can exist in a chain making up a gene are AA, AG, GG, TT, TC, CC.  If one of the pairs in the chain is made up of A and G instead of A and A, this is called a gene variant.  Another type of gene variant can happen when a few pairs are missing from the gene chain or a few pairs are added.  When a gene variant exists, the gene will make a protein that has a slightly different structure and therefore will function a bit differently.