Nutrigenomics is a relatively young branch of science. It studies how food affects the conversion of genetic information into RNA or protein. This process is called gene expression. Science knowledge can provide answers to the most important question – how to provide protection from deadly diseases.
Significant discoveries in nutritional science date back only to the 18th-20th centuries when the chemical composition of food, metabolism and its pathway were studied in detail. However, until the middle of the XX century, people suffered from diseases caused by improper and unbalanced nutrition.
Today scurvy is characterized as vitamin deficiency. It is a complete lack of vitamin C being a kind of mythical disease. However, scurvy was very common in the last century.
All this time, scientists have been trying to understand what effect on the cellular and molecular level food imposes. The end of the XX century marked the beginning of major studies on intracellular life. In such a way, nutrigenomics was born.
The importance and potential of nutrigenomics
The main task of nutrigenomics is to study the effect of food and biologically active additives on gene expression. A detailed clarification of the relationship between the diet and the human genome will help in the treatment of severe somatic diseases: diabetes, heart and blood vessel diseases, and neoplasms.
Scientists are convinced that nutritional data will help not only treat but also diagnose changes that indicate the disease onset. This will help to make an effective treatment and prevention plan for diseases.
The conversion of hereditary information into the proteins from which the body is built has several stages of regulation. The main one is the beginning of RNA synthesis. How this process will go depends on the concentration of proteins and the ability of DNA to bind to them. It has been proven that food affects both of these processes.
In this sense, the experiment of Jirtle and Waterland on transgenic rodents prone to obesity, diabetes, and tumor processes turned out to be very indicative. During pregnancy, choline, methionine, and folic acid were added to the food of fat females. As a result, healthy offspring were born.
With proper nutrition, healthy offspring are born in fat mice.
Researchers have proven that methyl groups can “turn off” a gene that makes embryos susceptible to disease. Mankind has got a chance to learn to “turn on” genes, strengthening health, and “turn off” a predisposition to diseases, and not only in newborn children.
How does food affect health?
In the digestion process, the main components of food break down into simple substances and are sent to cells, interacting with receptors. Signals from receptors to the cell nucleus can alter gene expression. Prolonged and regular changes in these signals affect health.
Proteins break down to form amino acids. Upon penetration into the cell, amino acids are found in the cytoplasm with the mTOR molecule. Activation of this molecule occurs only at a sufficiently high concentration of amino acids. Genetic mutations that attenuate mTOR pathway signals prolong life in worms and mice.
Restriction of proteins in the diet will contribute to longevity. A diet that restricts protein and carbohydrates reduces the risk of obesity and cancer. But scientists emphasize: it is proteins of animal origin that are “dangerous”.
Carbohydrates break down into monocular, such as glucose. An increase in blood glucose concentration contributes to insulin production. Each cell has a receptor that traps insulin, which triggers the signaling pathway.
The order received by the cells to absorb glucose will stimulate their division and growth. With an excess of glucose and a genetic predisposition, the biochemical mechanism of diabetes develops.
The insulin-glucose-cell signaling pathway is closely linked to the mTOR pathway. Therefore, their activation level will have a direct impact on health and even life expectancy.
Fats are converted to fatty acids and monoglycerides. Nutrigenomics is actively studying the biochemical effects of fatty acids because they can trigger numerous signaling pathways. In addition, many diseases are due to impaired fat metabolism.
All fatty acids can be divided into saturated and unsaturated. Unsaturated fatty acids include polyunsaturated fatty acids and trans fats.
Researchers have proven a direct relationship between the use of trans fats and the formation of heart and blood vessel diseases, diabetes, obesity, allergies, and neoplasms. A negative effect on the course of pregnancy is noted. The risks of premature birth and miscarriage increase.
Diet and the human genome
The goal of nutrigenomics is to study how variations in genes affect the absorption of food, to identify a predisposition to the disease. In medical practice, depending on the cause and provoking factors, all genetic diseases are usually divided into 2 classes:
- monogenic diseases. The monogenic disease is when one gene is affected including phenylketonuria, celiac disease, and hypolactasia. It is not difficult to prevent external influences with such diseases. It is enough to avoid products that are not absorbed.;
- polygenic diseases. Polygenic diseases associated with a failure in several genes and weighed down by external influences include obesity, type 2 diabetes, pathologies of the heart and blood vessels, oncological processes. In this case, you need to control nutrition, stress level, and physical activity.
Nutrigenomics and cancer
Nutrigenomics allows you to predict the risks and accurately say which products should be excluded and which should be present in the diet.
It is proved that the features of metabolism can contribute or, conversely, prevent cancer.
A mutation is common among cancer patients, which contributes to a decrease in the efficiency of the enzyme involved in DNA methylation. If carriers of mutations lack folate and choline in the diet, the risks of tumor processes increase significantly.