Nutrigenomics is exactly what it says on the tin – a mixture of nutrition and genetics. If that sounds a bit like bio-hacking, that’s because it is and who isn’t up for a bit of light bio hacking between friends?  

Biohacking is about changing aspects of our biology to improve our health, performance or longevity. Nutrigenomics identifies genetically compromised biological pathways in the body that require specific support, in order to reduce the risk of future chronic disease. It essentially provides a ‘road map’ of our own bodies to enable us to make practical choices in our daily lives to benefit our health long-term and mitigate future dependence on medical intervention. 

The benefits of Nutrigenomics are many including improved sleep, energy, stabilised blood sugar levels, reduced stress, improved physical performance and recovery, as well as balancing neurotransmitters, hormones and inflammation.  Intrigued? Read on…

Andrea Hunt is a Registered Nutritional Therapist & Nutrigenetic Counsellor at HUNT HEALTH.  She came to the discipline from a 15-year career in investment banking in London & Hong Kong where she experienced the effects of overworking, over-achieving and trying to be everything to everyone.  She started prioritising her health with a focus on supporting the innate renewing and anti-ageing biological functions of the body which led her to Nutrigenomics and since then, she has spent her time studying the emerging importance of genetic testing in a supporting role in wellness and preventative medicine; specifically, the interaction of genetics with lifestyle and Hunt health was born.

What is Nutrigenomics?
Nutrigenomics looks at where our individual genetic differences predispose us to risk of suboptimal health or disease, and how we can use diet, specific nutrients and lifestyle changes to correct biochemical imbalances, and optimise our genetic expression whilst extending our healthspan – and achieve longevity in good health, without chronic disease.  She says: “ We only completed mapping the entire human genome 20 years ago, so this is a relatively new area and for this reason, of the roughly 23,000 genes in the human body, we only examine a small handful of these genes. We only look at genes that have published, peer-reviewed scientific research to support the understanding of their activity and which have actionable interventions, meaning if we know a particular gene has a variant that causes its activity to be compromised, we know we can help improve the functioning of that gene by adding in its cofactor which is usually a specific vitamin or mineral. Nutrigenomics itself is quite a specific discipline and has only in the past 5 years or so become mainstream to nutrition and medicine as the value of its application to preventative health has become evident”.

How does it work?
After an exploratory call, a DNA test kit is sent out to you (this involves an internal mouth swab or finger prick blood test). You are emailed a comprehensive health questionnaire to complete detailing your current health concerns, symptoms, medical history, family history, lifestyle, levels of physical activity, use of medication and supplements, as well as your diet and health goals.  After completing an online 3-day food and lifestyle diary to provide the practitioner with a clear picture of your eating and movement habits you have a thorough 90minute consultation and your plan is devised. 

Nutrigenomics for longevity
It is no secret that we are all living longer, and we want to do this in the best health we can.  I was keen to understand, for someone like me in midlife, are we are a bit late to this party?  Andrea explained that it is never too late to benefit from Nutrigenomics and midlife can be an excellent time to start applying the principles.  This is a time when many of us start to notice heath niggles or that things just aren’t quite what they used to be and this is a way of understanding where our genetic differences may be contributing to certain vitamin or mineral needs.  For example, our body’s ability to transport and use vitamin D, depending on our genetic pathways, this could be contributing to symptoms of fatigue, mood imbalances or a weakened immune system or cardiovascular conditions which often manifest in midlife, and so by understanding where our genetic susceptibilities lie in these pathways, and how we can address them with the appropriate nutrients – such as folate, vitamin B12, zinc or magnesium – we can optimise our health as we age. 

Finding a practitioner
This is a relatively new discipline, but growing and due to the nature of the practice, it is important to find a practitioner who has the necessary training and understanding to interpret the genetic data in the reports used. Andrea herself holds a Nutrigenetic Counsellor (NgC) Register status with the British Association for Nutrition & Lifestyle Medicine (BANT), and this is a great place to start.  

Things to bear in mind
Nutrigenomics is entirely personal, and as such you only need to do the Nutrigenomic testing once – this isn’t like a blood test where the readings can change from day to day,  genes don’t change so the readings tell your practitioner what your likely predispositions are and then how your diet, environment and lifestyle determines how the genes are then expressed, and a clear actionable programme is set out in terms of lifestyle and nutrition. 

You can see more on Andrea and book an appointment HERE

Andrea’s tips:

  • Folate is an incredibly important dietary component – she recommends large handfuls of spinach, asparagus, Brussels sprouts, broccoli, cabbage or kale daily, either in a smoothie or covering half your plate at mealtimes. 
  • ‘Inflammageing’ is also considered the silent culprit of health deterioration in midlife and there are a number of nutrients that have notable benefits here.  These are omega-3 fatty acids found in oily fish have strong anti-inflammatory properties that positively influence a number of genes and confer cardiovascular, joint and mood benefits. Eating ‘SMASH’ fish – salmon, mackerel, anchovies, sardines, herring – at least twice a week is ideal.
  • Get your vitamin D levels checked. We simply don’t receive enough exposure to the sun in the UK for most of the year and genetic variants are so common for vitamin D transporters and receptors that supplementation requirements can vary greatly. We have vitamin D receptors in almost every cell in body so this vitamin has widespread effects on our health

words by Nicola de Burlet