What is Nutrigenomics??
A question I get asked every time I introduce my role as a nutritional therapist in the field of nutrigenomics! I see people’s eyes glaze over into the look of confusion which I know so well.
So, here is a short and sweet blog post to explain it.
What is DNA?
We are all born with DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid). It is a two-stranded molecule which carries our genetic information which makes us who we are. It gives our bodies the instructions it needs to build proteins and essentially to be alive. There are 4 nucleotide bases (A, C, T and G) and these combine in all different ways to give us genetic characteristics.
What are genes?
Genes are inherited. They are small sections of DNA which are coded to produce instructions to build proteins and to give us our personal characteristics (eye colour, natural hair colour etc.). Proteins make up cells, cells make up tissues and tissues make up organs. The differences between us are due to slight variations in our genes, of which there are many. These variations are what determine whether you have blond or brown hair, for example, and can also predispose you to certain diseases and health conditions.
What is the relevance?
In 1990 the Human Genome Project began its research to identify and locate every gene in the human body with the aim to better understand diseases and to find tools and strategies to prevent diet related health conditions and improve outcomes (Gillies, 2003). It is a huge scientific study (the biggest one yet!) and has been transformational in the science and health world. The project has found more than 1,800 disease genes which has enabled researchers to learn a significant amount about possible preventions and treatments (Collins & McKusick, 2001).
Scientists at the Human Genome Project have discovered that along with our genome, we have an epigenome which is also heritable and is made up of chemical compounds and proteins which influence gene expression (how they behave). These chemical compounds mark a gene and switch it off or on for different lengths of time and these switches can improve or dampen various important functions in your body and they are also changeable (Bernstein et al, 2007).
The term Nutrigenomics relates to how nutrients modulate gene and protein expression and ultimately influence our body’s function through influencing the gene markers – helping to switch them off and on (Afman & Muller 2006). Through increasing (or in some cases decreasing) certain key nutrients and co-factors, especially for a very important process called methylation (I’ll go into this another time), we can help to reach optimal health and clear up some of these pathways (Lui et al, 2003). Nutrition influences metabolic pathways and homeostatic control. Amino acids, for example, regulate gene expression and are precursors for syntheses of hormones (Wu, 2009). However, too much can be detrimental and leads to conditions such as neurological disorders and oxidative stress, so balance is key (here’s where us nutritional therapists come in handy…).
This is just the top level information on this exciting development in health. I think it is the most exciting and empowering aspect of nutritional therapy to date and although there is a lot of further research to be done, so far the results have been very promising.
... one of the most common issues women go to the doctors for, yet a condition that is rarely openly discussed. I have personally suffered from chronic UTIs in the past, resulting in low dose antibiotics for 3 months and one particular infection was a resistant bacteria (superbug) which led to a painful kidney infection only treatable by IV antibiotics.
Current treatment on the NHS is antibiotics and, in some cases, you really do need them otherwise the bacteria can travel up to your kidneys. However, the over-use of antibiotics has its side effects including impacting your immune system which you need to be working optimally to prevent you getting recurring UTIs.
Disclaimer! Always seek medical advice first.
There are a few reasons why we get UTIs and some of us are more prone to them than others. Bacteria, which doesn’t usually reside in our urinary tract gets in and starts swimming it’s annoying self up to our bladders where it starts multiplying and causing inflammation. Strong immune systems go into battle here and win, and the host is none the wiser. People with compromised immunity, however, or susceptibility to UTIs find that the invasive bacteria usually win.
People who experience chronic UTIs become more susceptible to future ones due to the inflammation, and the body's immune defences in the urinary tract becoming weakened from antibiotic use which stops it being able to fight in battle with other bacteria as well as it did before due to relying on antibiotics doing it for them. Also, sometimes the pathogenic bacteria can linger in your bladder walls if they haven't been cleared totally by the antibiotics.
Common symptoms: burning pain when urinating, burning feeling in your bladder, need to urinate all the time, low mood, low in energy. Pain in lower back, shoulder, fevers, vomiting are all signs the infection has travelled to your kidneys and you should seek medical care immediately.
What can you do? Prevention! Look out for the combination of factors which usually lead you to an infection. For me that combination is feeling stressed about work, lack of sleep, drinking alcohol, being dehydrated and having sex (mostly with a new partner).
Stress, alcohol and lack of sleep compromise your immune system by using up crucial nutrients. Dehydration means we don’t produce the fluids needed for comfortable intercourse which can cause inflammation and provides more opportunity for bacteria to infect. It also means we are less able to urinate after intercourse which is crucial for flushing out the invasive bacteria from the urinary tract.
B vitamins, magnesium and stress management techniques will help keep our stress levels down.
Zinc, vitamin D, vitamin C and sleep will improve immunity.
Obviously, water is my fix for dehydration.
D'mannose is a great supplement for urine infections as long as the invasive bacteria is E.coli (the most common bacteria strain involved in a UTI). It doesn’t work on other strains. D’mannose is essentially a sugar which attaches to the E.coli in your bladder enabling it to be urinated out more easily thus preventing worsening infection.
Cranberry extract is also helpful in the prevention of UTIs, Liquid formulas will be absorbed better than pills and it also needs to be taken daily for a period of time to work effectively. If you are prone to UTIs you might want to think about taking the recommended dose daily.
For others, food allergies and hormonal imbalances can trigger a UTI as well as vaginal thrush and bacterial vaginitis due to the vaginal pH being out of balance. The vagina is usually, and needs to be, acidic and this prevents sneaky bacteria from being able to survive there. So keeping on top of these conditions could help you in your prevention plan.
If you are experiencing chronic UTIs then you need to give your bladder time to recover from the infections. This includes an anti-inflammatory diet and avoiding your triggers until you feel the inflammation has passed. Keep taking a low dose of D'mannose and cranberry each day to keep clearing out potential pathogens still lurking.
I have found these infections to be debilitating and affect my relationships at times. So if anyone is reading this and has experienced the same – I feel you! Making the changes above can really make a difference. Working with a trained nutritional therapist will help to uncover what the root cause of your UTI is for you.