So do you prefer tea or coffee? Do you prefer spicy or sweet-tasting foods? It’s all in your genes! We all have different genes. Take eye color, some people have a genetic variant for blue eyes whilst others have the variant for brown. Your genes also dictate how well you burn fat predisposing you to obesity, or they may make you better at controlling your blood sugar, influencing how likely you are to experience diabetes.
Your genes can influence whether or not you can tolerate lactose, how well you can process iron, and whether or not you can tolerate alcohol well. So if your genes can influence these factors, wouldn’t it be great to know if this is happening, so you can tailor your diet to avoid things like feeling tired due to poor iron utilization or feeling bloated after eating lactose?
And this is the field of nutrigenomics which informs us what foods the body tolerates and which ones it doesn’t on the basis of genes.
Wouldn’t it be great to know what is the best nutrition for you? And that’s why in our programs we include genetic testing. That way we can get to know you right down to that molecular level and design the perfect nutritional program that is right for who you are.
Let’s get back to coffee…
For many of us, it’s hard to imagine a day that doesn’t kick off with a cup of something caffeinated (and if we do imagine such a day, it’s bound to be a pretty unpleasant one). While feeling dependent on any substance to get us through the day isn’t a good thing, the recent research confirming legitimate health benefits for coffee and tea makes it easy to view these pick-me-ups as harmless (and even helpful!) additions to our lives.
However, genetics play a major role in how our bodies respond to caffeine, and at what intake caffeine can become dangerous. Caffeine is by far the most widely consumed stimulant throughout the world. However, most people are unaware that your DNA ultimately decides how your body metabolizes it. This is due to a genetic variant that is located in the CYP1A2 gene at position rs762551. Depending on the sequence of your DNA at this location, you will break down caffeine at different rates.
Because of reduced enzyme activity in the liver, slow metabolizers break down caffeine at a more gradual rate and will have caffeine present in their system for longer periods of time than fast metabolizers.
If a person’s body processes caffeine slowly, it can increase the risk of various illnesses, such as heart disease and osteoporosis. For example, we know from studies that breast cancer appears on average seven years later in women who drink 2-5 cups of coffee a day compared to women who don’t drink coffee, so maybe a significant protective factor against breast cancer. But this effect was only seen in women who had a functioning caffeine-degrading gene and could metabolize it quickly. If this gene didn’t work properly, drinking coffee had no influence on the development of breast cancer. So the protective effects of coffee only seem to occur if the body is able to process it efficiently.
The question now is: can coffee be recommended? For people with a fully functioning gene, the answer is clearly yes. But for those with limited gene function, drinking coffee raises the risk of heart attacks and other illnesses.
For years, the scientific literature on caffeine and caffeinated beverages has been conflicting, with some research showing increased risk of health problems and others showing the opposite. The genetic differences in caffeine metabolism are a major reason the health effects of caffeine have been so inconsistent between studies. Three cheers for genetic variation – that’s why we do DNA analysis.
If you do get tested – what can you find out?
Did you know that according to new studies, it’s said that humans have about 30 genes that code for bitter taste receptors? Each receptor can interact with several compounds, allowing people to taste a wide variety of bitter substances.
Various genes could influence our taste, these can include PROP (6-n-propylthiouracil) tasters vs. non-tasters. PROP tasters have a higher sensitivity to bitter foods and are less likely to include bitter-tasting foods, like cruciferous vegetables in their diets. Whereas those individuals able to taste PROP are more likely to consume a larger quantity of dietary fat and are more prone to becoming obese. Having the ability to taste bitter compounds could have a large impact on food choices.
TRP receptors located within your tongue help you to appreciate different tastes (sweetness, bitterness, or umami), temperature sensations (warm/cold), and pain that comes from eating a spicy meal. Most spices often evoke warm sensations that may be subsequently surpassed by a recognizable sharp ‘burning’ aftertaste, that may lead to pain. Adverse effects associated with eating spicy foods include severe indigestion, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, and diarrhea. Those with a higher sensitivity to spice may also have a higher risk of developing conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD).
The Holistic Highway tests the TRPV1 gene (gene plays a role in response to spices), which codes for the capsaicin receptor, a protein that activates the sensation of heat and pain. Certain genetic mutations mean that some individuals may have more sensitive receptors to various spices than others.
There are also various genes that have an influence on our appetite. Ghrelin is produced by the pancreas and the stomach and is involved in stimulating hunger. Genetic variations in ghrelin have been associated with binge eating. Leptin and CCK are neuroendocrine hormones that work to promote satiety. Genetics variants of leptin have been associated with an increased risk for extreme snacking behavior. Whereas genetics variants of CCK have been associated with extreme meal size. FTO, the fat mass and obesity gene, has largely been associated with obesity. FTO could influence appetite by decreasing leptin release and therefore decreasing satiety. GAD variants have also been associated with disordered eating behavior, most notably an increase in carbohydrate intake.
To understand your eating behavior better and food preferences, you need to get more inside your genetic makeup. Getting tested is one way for you to empower yourself with tools that can help you establish a sustainable, healthier eating habit that is aligned with your DNA.
So why does it matter?
You may be asking yourself why you should care? After all, people have been getting by fine without knowing their genetic makeup for centuries.
Not long ago, it wasn’t as simple to take a DNA test. It just wasn’t accessible. Today, you can also use genetic testing to identify whether or not you may be predisposed to diseases linked to nutrition such as cardiovascular disease. It may be daunting to know that you are at an increased risk associated with a disease, but this really can be a lifesaving tool if used preventatively, as it will allow you to make lifestyle adjustments in advance of any issues, rather than having them creep up on you. Given the serious implications of slow caffeine metabolism on disease risk, knowing which gene variants we carry is a smart idea for anyone who enjoys caffeinated beverages on a regular basis.
We are becoming more and more aware of just how much personalized medicine, rather than medicine for the masses, can benefit an individual. It’s the way of the future in health care. If you would like to know more about how our personalized programs that include genetics can help you – we invite you to sign up for a free chat with Kerry with your cup of coffee or tea – just to chat about your health challenges and see if this is the right fit for you.
And for those that can drink coffee here is our video on how to make coffee with ghee.