Nutrigenomics

How does our DNA influence the way we process omega-3, omega-6, and essential vitamins?

7 minute read

The human body is able to create almost everything that it needs from the basic ingredients in food (protein, carbohydrates, and fat). However, there are some molecules that we need, that we cannot make ourselves, such as the ‘fatty acids’ omega-6 and omega-3. Since our bodies cannot make these molecules, we have to eat foods that contain them in order to stay healthy. The amount of these nutrients needed varies from person to person based on our age, level of activity, the environment we live in, and also our genetics. In addition, our eating habits can make it difficult to obtain certain nutrients in the required amounts.

Besides our food intake, our genetics can effect how we process omega-3 and omega-6. A variant near the gene FADS1 has been associated with blood concentration of arachidonic acid (AA), which is a product of the breakdown of omega-6 . Two variants on this gene, rs75804782 and rs121908635, can indicate whether we are more likely to be early risers (early birds), or prefer going to bed and waking up later (night owls).

rs174537

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Vitamin C

Vitamin C is necessary for keeping your immune system functioning, and for repairing damaged tissue (for example, after exercise or injury). Vitamin C deficiency, more commonly known as ‘scurvy’, is extremely rare today, but used to be a real problem for people for whom fresh fruits and vegetables were unavailable for long periods of time (like pirates or naval explorers).

Scurvy is the result of poor tissue repair, specifically of collagen protein which is extremely important in holding tissues in the right place. When vitamin C is chronically low, tissue repair starts to break down and symptoms including sore arms/legs, bleeding gums, and extreme fatigue set in.

There have also been a large number of claims about vitamin C supplementation decreasing the risk of infectious disease, cancer, or cardiovascular disease, but there is not a lot of evidence to support this. The daily recommended intake of vitamin C is about 100mg for healthy adults, but most people can tolerate a lot more without side effects.

A genetic variant has been identified in the SLC23A1 gene which is important in the absorption of vitamin C in the intestines . The genetic variant rs33972313 has two possible alleles: G and A. If you carry the A allele, you are likely (on average) to break down vitamin C less effectively, so you may benefit from a diet richer in vitamin C to compensate.

rs33972313

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Vitamin D

Vitamin D has an important role in the control of calcium levels within the body and is essential for ensuring good bone health. Vitamin D can come from the food you eat, and it is also produced by the body when the skin is exposed to sunlight.

In places where sunlight is not available for part of the year, getting vitamin D from food is essential. Fatty fish such as salmon and tuna are a particularly good sources of vitamin D especially when taken in the form of fish liver oils. Vegetarian or vegan sources of vitamin D include UV-treated mushrooms and fortified soy or almond milk. Vitamin D supplements are often made from animal products, but there are several vegetarian or vegan alternatives, including algae-based supplements.

We all stare up at the same sun, but the way our bodies respond to the sunlight can vary dramatically. Vitamin D levels in our blood due to sun exposure are influenced by our genetics . The variant rs2282679 has two possible alleles: G and T. People carrying G alleles are more likely to have vitamin D deficiency.

rs2282679

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Though your genetics can influence how much essential nutrients you require, a varied diet that includes fresh produce and fatty fish it is likely to give you all that you need. However, if you follow a diet that restricts your intake of certain foods it is important that you keep track the amount of essential nutrients that you are obtaining.

Image credit: Xiaolong Wong - Unsplash

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