Does your DNA affect how you should eat and exercise?

Libby Limon BSc NT mBANT / Jan 3, 2017

Although we are all humans with the same basic cell and body structure, we are all born with a completely unique set of genes. They determine what we look like, our hair, eye, skin colour, height etc. but more than that we are now beginning to understand how they continue to affect us; from everything to how our bodies react to our environment, to diet and exercise, and the likelihood of developing certain diseases.

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Genetics are not your destiny but they certainly determine your individual predispositions. Therefore, knowing what you have to work with from a genetic perspective can help us to optimize the way we look after our health and wellbeing via diet and exercise. It's now easier than ever to test your DNA from the comfort of your own home, and now for as little as £99! Here are some of the genes that they test for and what they mean for adjusting your lifestyle to achieve optimal wellness.

The Coffee Gene 

Often given a bad wrap in the health world, it actually is either your medicine or your poison depending on your genetics. Your genetics will determine how well you are able to express an enzyme called CYP1A2 which metabolises caffeine. This makes some people fast metabolizers and some people slow metabolizers. Studies have shown that people with the slower version of the enzyme who also drank at least two to three cups of coffee per day have a significantly increased risk of a non-fatal heart attack. However, the fast metabolizers, on the other hand, may actually be able to reduce their heart attack risk by drinking coffee.

The Detox Genes

We have come a long way in our understanding of how our genetics influence liver function by examining the influence genetics has on the cofactors which support the liver’s 500+ functions. Glutathione is an antioxidant produced in the liver and is used for detoxification as well as protecting cells around the body from damage. There are a number of genes that affect the liver's ability to produce glutathione. Lower glutathione production means that you will be less able to clear toxins, heavy metals and will increase your risk if you are smoking. It may even affect the ability for your muscles to recover from a workout.

This said, no matter your genetics you can use your diet to help increase glutathione production and detoxification pathways. Cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, kale, spinach, cauliflower and pak choi, and green tea, and sulphurous vegetables, such as onions and garlic, can all help your liver to detoxify.

The Fat Gene

For years fat was demonized as the bad guy of the diet world, but in recent years we have come to understand the benefits of healthy fats, and also the role that fats can have in making you feel full. However, they are very calorie dense foods so, understandably, too much may cause weight gain. The probability of that weight gain from a high-fat diet is also linked to our genetics. The APOA5 gene has a variation where if over 30% of your energy comes from fat in your diet, then you are more likely to have a higher BMI (body mass index), i.e. weigh more. So if you have this variation, a high-fat diet, even from healthy fats, is not advisable.

The Exercise Genes

If you think that some people are naturally better at sports or inherently fitter, you are right to an extent. Genes determine between 20-80% of the variation in traits like oxygen intake, cardiac performance, and muscle fiber composition. Currently, research has been done on 150 genes which have been linked to different aspects of physical performance. Particularly the ACTN3 gene. which is linked to a type of muscle fiber that is used for power-based sports. In some people, the expression of this gene is turned off meaning their muscle is more suited to slow endurance sports, whilst those with it switched on will be more suited to power based sports such as sprinting. The gene has no effect on the benefit of exercise overall but it may tell you which suits your body more, which could make it more enjoyable.

Genetic profiling and studies have only just begun. This new area of science will help us understand how we can support our genetic predispositions by adjusting our diet and lifestyles to achieve optimal health and wellbeing. This is why you will be able to upload your genetic data to our new free app, so our AI Nutritionist can formulate a vitamin pack designed specifically for your diet, lifestyle and genetic dispositions.