We used to think there was little we could do about the genes we’d been given. They were carved in stone and we were at the mercy of their bidding. It was a fatalistic attitude often used as an excuse to avoid making changes to our lives. What was the point if our genes were immutable?

Well it turns out that we were wrong! Although it is true that we cannot change our genetic code, we can greatly influence the expression of many genes and control the effects they have on our body. By making small changes to our lifestyle, our diet, our supplements, we can not only optimize the genetic blueprint we have been given but we can actually alter the way genes work. We can turn them on or off, up or down to maximize their beneficial side, while minimizing their adverse effects. We can steer them in a specific direction that enhances our health today and we can modify them to prevent problems in the future. Genes, it would appear, are malleable and with the right tools we can shape them to create better health and longevity.

Personal Genetic Testing

Current personal genetic testing incorporates two components. One is the genetic analysis, which is the actual genotype analysis and identification of your individual gene coding (such as 23andMe). The second is the decoding process, which interprets the coding and produces a statement of disease risk or lifestyle impact.

Genome-wide association studies (GWAS) are used to analyze the effect a certain gene coding has on disease risk. Certain gene variations have well-documented and researched impact. For example, the intestinal fatty-acid binding protein-2 gene (FABP-2) plays a very important role in the absorption and binding of both saturated and unsaturated long-chain fatty acids from the GI tract. GWAS reveal that individuals carrying the at-risk gene variant (the A-variant) have increased production of the gene product (fatty acid binding protein), which results in weight gain, glucose and insulin resistance, lower HDL and higher LDL cholesterol when ingesting even moderate levels of fat and carbohydrate in the diet.

In our new book we look at specific genes and their risk factors based on their relevance, the body of evidence to support their associations and their ability to be manipulated by interventions such as diet, lifestyle, exercise and natural supplementation. An example of such a gene would be the FTO (Fat Mass and Obesity Gene). In large-scale multiple-population studies, the “risk” variant of the gene accounts for an overall 1% increase in BMI and a 22% increased risk of obesity, independent of diet and exercise. However, the effect is significantly worse if the individual consumes a low protein, high saturated fat or high calorie diet. Adults with the risk version of gene tend to consume, on average, 125 to 280 more calories per day than those with normal gene coding. The overall effect of this variation in gene coding is quite profound. Those with one risk variant of the gene weigh an average of 1.2 kg (2.6 pounds) more than normal individuals. Those with two, weigh an average 3 kg (6.6 pounds) more and have a 1.67-fold higher rate of obesity. Obesity risk rises to 2.5 times if ingesting a high carbohydrate or high fat diet. This trend is seen as early as age 7 and continues throughout life. The risk variant of the gene is also associated with an increased likelihood of developing type 2 diabetes and metabolic syndrome. The good news is that even if you have the at-risk version of the gene, its influence can be counteracted by dietary changes and increased exercise. Adopting a low-fat, low-sugar, higher protein diet, minimizing saturated fat and exercising regularly can restore your metabolic balance to normal.

This is an example of Gene modulation – changing the way our genes are expressed. Simply put, turning them “on” or “off”. Just because you have a certain gene coding does not necessarily mean it has to exert its effect. Many of the metabolic genes only appear to be “active” under certain circumstances. By avoiding those circumstances, the adverse effect of the gene is not realized. Its action is effectively “turned off’.

Using your genetic coding to optimize health

It is clear that our health, metabolism and weight are controlled by the interplay between nature and nurture – between our genetics and our environment. We can now identify our individual genetic strengths and weaknesses through genetic analysis and we can modify our environment through diet, supplements and lifestyle. This gives us the unprecedented ability to influence the way our bodies function, maximizing our health and reducing our propensity for metabolic disease. Our genes can tell us our most favourable balance of macronutrients (protein, fat and carbohydrate) for optimum health and weight management and the ideal number and timing of meals. It can guide our exercise regimen and our stress management. Using personal genetics offers the ultimate in personal diet and health management.

The five cornerstones of health are metabolism, diet, stress, inflammation and detoxification. Optimizing these is the foundation of good health and the reduction of disease risk. Our book looks at genes and gene coding that impact your metabolism, diet and stress. These three factors are closely interlinked when it comes to your weight, energy levels and diet. Some of these genes are associated with the development of diseases such as type 2 diabetes, but it is important to bear in mind that such diseases have multiple aetiologies and contributing factors. So, while you may have a “risk allele” you may never develop the condition. The purpose of the information in our book is simply to identify your own personal strengths and weaknesses and to allow you to make sensible lifestyle choices to potentially improve your overall health and well-being. It may also help you achieve your ideal weight. If it can help reduce your risk for certain diseases, then that is an added benefit. Weight gain, metabolic syndrome, type 2 diabetes, heart disease and dyslipidaemia are complex conditions, meaning there is no single answer to treatment. However, we feel that Genetics provides another important piece to the puzzle and one that has the potential to be highly individual.

Case Study: Using Genetics to Improve diet and weight

Anna is a 36-year-old professional woman who came to see me because of unwanted weight gain despite her strict diet and exercise regimen. Her weight had increased 18 pounds in 8 months. She felt hungry all the time, had low energy and had muscle and joint soreness.

Anna had originally wanted to eat more healthily and planned to lose about 5 pounds. On the recommendation of a friend, she had radically changed her diet from a higher protein, moderate carbohydrate diet with “minimal fats” to more of a “ketogenic” diet incorporating high fat, low to moderate protein, and restricted carbohydrates with fewer vegetables and no fruits, whole grains or starches.

Anna’s genetic profile (details at the end of this chapter) indicated the following:

  • Significantly increased weight-gain and hunger when consuming more than 22 grams of saturated fat per day.
  • Moderate increase in desire for energy rich foods and increased weight gain with a low protein, high saturated fats diet.
  • Higher risk of progressive weight gain and worse with a high saturated fat diet.
  • Overall she handles carbohydrates well.
  • Increased inflammation with endurance exercise.

By ignoring her genetics and following the latest “ketogenic” dietary trend, Anna not only failed to lose weight, she actually gained more. In addition, the diet had caused an imbalance in the systems in her body and brain controlling feelings of hunger. The diet had also resulted in higher levels of inflammation resulting in feelings of soreness, “puffiness” and fatigue.

Based on her genetics I recommended the following protocol:

  • Reduce her daily lean protein intake calculated according to her body weight.
  • Slightly increase whole grains to 2/3 the physical size of her protein portion.
  • Vegetables and salads allowed in unlimited quantities.
  • Reduce her saturated fat intake to less than 22 grams per day.
  • Supplements (see Appendix 2)
    • Resveratrol Extra
    • Tri-Metabolic Control (TMC)

Anna lost 3 pounds in the first week, and 16 more over the next 8 weeks. The “puffiness” and inflammatory feeling were significantly reduced by day 10 and completely gone by 2 weeks. Energy levels, both day-to-day and with exercise, were back to normal by 4 weeks. At 2-year follow-up Anna continued with a moderate and balanced diet and had maintained a healthy weight.

This is a good example of why there is no one diet that suits everyone. Diet trends come and go and they work for some people but not others. In some cases, like Anna’s, they can be detrimental. Genetics provides insight into your individual metabolism and allows a highly personal, safe and effective program to be designed.