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There are 7.6 billion people on this planet, each inadvertent participants in a drama of cosmic proportions: evolution. Evolution is an ever-advancing story, with every one of us participating as both a byproduct and an influence. We are evolution in action, and the sooner we become conscious of this participation, as one entity, the sooner we can fundamentally transform this story for the better for all future generations.
But it all starts with recognizing our role.
Evolution is an eternal conflict between nature and nurture. The dietary decisions your grandparents made are most likely affecting you through epigenetics today. And the food choices you are making (or have made) will inadvertently affect your grandkids as a result of the impacted genes that are passed on to them.
It’s crazy to think about, isn’t it? We’re talking one long, continuous thread whose durability and strength depends on the choices each individual makes. It’s not just nature that impacts what we become.
We at Gini are seeking to influence these outcomes one person at a time. We intend to do this by empowering everyone to make choices around their diet based on their DNA. We are genetically and biochemically different from everyone else and this fundamentally means that nutrition, diet and exercise should be personalized too.
One size does not fit all.
Nature Vs. Nurture
In the last two decades, research has made it very clear that nurture plays a bigger role in human development than previously thought. It’s not just our genetic heritage that serves as the primary determinant of our health, disease risk or longevity. Though this inherited genetic code provides the blueprint for our physiological makeup and metabolism, it’s all malleable. If you consider the body a machine, then this inherited genetic code is like a modifiable program stored in the cells of your body.
One way of modifying this code is by controlling the activation and inactivation of genes. Gene expression plays a role here. Think of a light bulb, either the kind that has an on and off switch or one with a knob to dim or brighten the light. This control over gene expression can be an extremely powerful tool. Bad genes that cause diseases can be turned off and health enhancing genes can be turned on.
Epigenetics: The Software Layer on Top of the DNA Hardware
Epigenetics at its core is simply a complex interaction that plays out on daily basis between the genes you are born with, the actions you take and your environment. These are heritable changes that do not impact gene sequence. If genetics is the hardware, then the software layer is epigenetics, controlling the expression of genes. You hold the power of a programmer and can influence epigenetics in many ways. This programming is done through the food you eat, your smoking habits, drinks you decide to have or not have, sleep you get or don’t get, exercise frequency, exposure to toxins and any big or repeated stimuli we experience in the environment we live in.
Each decision you make essentially changes the expression of your genes, and some of these changes are long term. One thing is for sure: you are in control of this process. In a way, you are the master of your genetic destiny. By influencing epigenetic factors, and thus gene expressions, you can change your disease risk. This allows you to enhance and realize your maximum health potential, in turn helping you to live a long and healthy life. Just by realizing your own peak epigenetic performance, you are playing a part in strengthening human evolution.
Every Human is Unique
You began with the meeting of an egg and sperm. The first cell formed after that meeting was given a genetic code. Half of it came from your father and the other half from your mother. The plan of ‘you’ was written in those genes. All of your cells will use that genetic code for the rest of your life.
If we compare our individual genomes, you’ll find that 99.9 percent of them are the same. It’s the remaining 0.1 percent that is responsible for giving us our unique identities; our facial features, the color of our eyes, food intolerances and mutations responsible for diseases. The most common variants are known as single nucleotide polymorphisms, or SNPs.
So What Do These SNPs Do?
Pronounced “snips,” SNPs are nucleotide changes at a particular location on the genome that are seen in more than 1 percent of the population. As you can imagine, there are plenty of them - roughly 10 million. A majority of these are harmless, but some of them are biological markers for diseases and are directly responsible for causing disease. There are also interaction effects between multiple SNPs at play that we do not yet fully understand.
Longevity syndrome is a classic example of an epigenetic condition caused by a mutation of apolipoprotein A-1 or ApoA-I Milano. It results in an increased HDL of greater than 75 mg/dL, boosting the lifespan of individuals possessing this gene by reducing the odds of coronary heart disease. Whether this gene helps or not is completely dependent on an individual’s diet.
You cannot look at SNPs in vacuum. They have to be looked at holistically, and you have to consider other diagnostic and functional biomarkers. SNPs may be expressed differently based on one’s nutrient status, other interacting SNPs, stress factors, environmental factors and lifestyle choices.
Nutrition and Epigenetics
Very complex interactions play out between nutrients and genes, regulating how genes expresses themselves. A gene may be present, but it will only be expressed when it meets a certain set of conditions or in a particular environment. For example, Vitamin D controls the expression of close to 4000 genes, which is like 5 percent of our genes. So deficiency in Vitamin D will limit the expression of many of these impacted genes and your cells may not function at peak efficiency. Over time, this can translate into other diseases.
The Rise of Nutrigenomics
In the age we currently live, we are offered advice on the nutritional needs that should be met on a daily basis. But this information applies only to general populations. For example, vitamins that are suggested as daily requirements by the FDA may be higher or lower depending upon your genetic risks. Nutrigenomics moves us away from a mass population based approach to a personalized approach based on an individual’s genetic factors. If you have a specific variant, that may dictate the doses of vitamins or another specific intervention.
Food = Information
Food is full of information signals. Everything you eat can have a beneficial, neutral or detrimental effect on your body. When changes happen outside the cell because of food intake, it sends signals to the receptors outside the cell starting a communication chain - a process called phosphorylation. This message reaches the nucleus, interacts with the DNA and drives the creation of new proteins. Everything that we take in - nutrition, stress and other factors - can influence pH changes and cause different metabolites to be formed within the body. This informs the DNA.
Your genes do not dictate your destiny. Although genes are critical for giving a framework for the body to operate in, nutrition modifies the extent to which different genes are expressed, thereby dictating how much of their potential an individual can achieve. And this diet is going to change throughout the lifespan of a person. It’s not static. Bad food intake, on the other hand, can translate into a disease unless you have the required genes to intervene and protect you.
Oxidative Stress and Toxicity
When cells metabolize, they produce reactive oxidants. These free radicals are responsible for oxidative stress. As we age, we lose out on the ability to counter it. This gets worse over time, accelerating the ageing process. Nuclear factor erythroid 2–related factor 2 (Nrf2), plays a role in close to 3000 genes in our DNA, up or down regulating them. Nrf2 plays a crucial role in releasing anti oxidant and there are natural foods, like broccoli, that serve as Nrf2 activators.
What’s Driving the Market?: Falling Costs of Consumer Genetic Testing
A monumental shift is occurring in the consumer testing market. Applying current growth rates, we are looking at 1 billion people who will have undergone a genetic test by 2022. The costs are falling rapidly too. What used to cost millions of dollars in the early 2000’s is now hovering at $99 for Ancestry.com and a DNA kit from Helix goes for as low as $20 when on sale. We expect this to accelerate to an extent where DNA testing turns into another commodity.
Gini’s Raison d'être
We already established that our genes are a road map to our body. The food we eat and our lifestyle - exercise, practices like meditation, fasting behaviour and environmental factors - play a big role in regulating gene expression. This is also one of the fundamental reasons some diets work for certain people but not for others. And genes doesn't code for diseases, they code for function. Their expressions patterns are well within our control in a lot of cases.
Available on iOS and Android, Gini breaks down complex health-nutrition-gene relationships, functions as a guide for an individual’s micro or macronutrient needs, and helps identify the best food sources optimal for your genetic profile. Gini taps into three new emerging scientific fields ― nutrigenomics, epigenetics and nutrigenetics.
Is The Science There?
The science of nutrigenetics and nutrigenomics is evolving at a fast pace. With cheaper testing and better accessibility to test results in a short period of time, more researchers are turning to DNA and genetic data. One of the fortunate results of this shift is a closer look at the complex interaction between genes and diet.
Researchers are beginning to identify common SNPs and mutations that affect vitamin metabolism. These advancements allow us to optimize the requirements for specific vitamins and nutrients for different individuals, which in turn plays an important role in food selection.
Based on current studies and research, the relationship between genotype and nutrients can be classified one of four ways:
- Insufficient Data
These classifications will be shown in future Gini releases to advise users on the stage of research each recommendation and story is currently in. Gini health aims to keep users informed about the latest research relevant to the individual.
Keeping up with the latest DNA based research is the best way we know of to create and follow a personalized and optimized diet. The information we are able to access and use for this purpose will continue to get better as more research is completed.
It's a good time to be part of this ongoing growth in research and we’re excited to start making the science better as well.
Gini Stories: Learn about health-nutrition-gene relationships. This is based on the science of nutrigenetics and backed by research studies.
Stories is a very fresh and innovative approach to looking at genes, nutrition and food together in one place. We’ll break down complex information and provide you with the latest research to aid your decision making. It’s divided into health risks (gene expression, bone health, mental health, etc..), traits (ex. perceptions of taste) and wellness - think lactose intolerance and weight gain tendency. Digging into each item allows you to see the level of risk (ranges from very high to normal), read further about the related genes and understand how it ties back to nutrition (nutrigenetic factors).
Gini Health: Provides a snapshot of your nutrition needs based on your genetic risks and RDA. It acts as an accurate guide to your specific micro or macronutrient needs.
The health section breaks down various nutrients and their risk levels for you based on your inherent health risks projected by your gene stories. You are provided with nutrition deficiency risk indicators ranging from very high to normal. You can learn more about a particular gene’s function and the associated health effects.
Gini Lens: Personalized nutrition label based on your your genetics. This is a revolutionary feature that exists only on Gini.
Foods interact differently with every one of us. Gini lens helps you identify what foods are best for you and breaks the information down showing you its constituent macro and micro-nutrients. Should you be eating mushrooms? Or Oysters? You can use this nifty tool to identify foods specifically targeted to meet your personal genetic needs. The needs will change based on your age, gender and genetic risk factors.
Gini Coach: A hyper-personalized food/habit coach based on DNA to help you stay on top of health goals. It does your planning for you and makes it fun and interesting.
Our coaching feature will help you plan your day and find the best natural foods to help you achieve optimal health. It’ll manage all the planning and keep it interesting so that you can stay on top of your nutrition and fitness goals. This is a great feature, especially if you are watching your weight gain or fighting other chronic conditions. You can add or subtract foods to see how it affects your overall score for the day. Connecting your family to Gini can help you plan everyone's meals and drive your shopping behaviour so that you can procure food that fits into your family’s goals.
Personalized Diet Based Data for Physicians
When was the last time a physician asked you what you were eating as a part of your diet? One of our long terms goals at Gini is to help patients share their dietary habits with physicians in order to aid in diagnosis. Epigenetic influences like diet, stress, exposure to certain chemicals in the environment and presence of SNPs are all factors that must be taken into consideration for diagnosis. This information layer can assist clinicians and doctors in personalizing diet, lifestyle, and supplementation recommendations so as to bring about a change in physical and biochemical functions of the body.
Limits of Nutrigenomics
Gut biome-brain axis
The gut/brain axis is poorly understood, but we now know that the microbiota present in our gastrointestinal system plays a major role in breaking down important nutrients and contributes to our emotional well being. However, genetic variations and our dietary behaviours (like the consumption of high sugar and high fats) have an impact on these tens of trillions of microorganisms. It’s estimated that there are anywhere between 300 to 1000 different species of bacteria that aid our digestion process. We have yet to fully understand the role they play in epigenetics and nutrigenomics.
Sheer Complexity of Interactions
While we now understand how some SNPs can contribute to diseases and in regulating your gene expression, for the most part we are in the dark and still don’t have a solid understanding of how genetic, epigenetic and nutrient-gene interactions affect each other. Adding to this complexity is consumer behaviour. Most often our choices aren’t rational and we would choose something that tastes better over a food that is recommended to be healthy for you. With Gini Lens, we hope to solve a part of this by helping users identify foods they like that also meet the critical requirements of their body. Here’s an example of how nutrients, foods, food groups and dietary patterns interact with genetic components when looking solely at cardiovascular disease phenotypes: Link
What Does the Future Look Like?
Adopting nutrigenomics on a widespread scale can have a domino effect on our society. We have already established that micro and macronutrient components in food can regulate gene expression patterns. There is ample evidence now that genes that are activated or deactivated based on diet may play a role in the initiation, advancement, and progression of chronic diseases. Studies in mice, for example, are showing that miR-483-3p plays a critical role in the development of type 2 diabetes. So the path to eliminating some of the chronic diseases that plague us right now, from obesity to type 2 diabetes, may well lie within our diet.
Are high performance athletes better off on a vegan diet or meat based one? The answer may lie in their genes. Imagine being able to offer Olympic athletes hyper-personalised diets so that they can get a lot more out of their own mind and bodies, and in-turn a split second advantage. Research is highlighting that populations in different regions of the world have evolved for dietary habits with different proportions of meat and vegetables.
Should we be eating food grown locally? Do they have specific phytochemicals that are suitable for individuals in our environment? These are questions that we still don’t have answers to. Whatever the case may be, the fledgling realms of nutrigenetics and nutrigenomics show great promise. They will enable physicians and practitioners of functional medicine to hyper-personalize dietary recommendations and exercise routines.
Every individual is different and health counselling based on nutrigenetic analysis has been shown to be much more successful than conventional diets that may be a hit or miss for a specific individual.
Disclaimer: These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration or any other governing organisation. Nutrigenomics, Nutrigenetics and Epigenetics are all relatively new areas of research. We’ll provide you with the best advice backed by scientific evidence. Gini helps you get the most out of your genetic makeup, and is not meant as a cure-all.
Founder and CEO, Gini Health Inc.
Mobile: +1 647 927 0051
Falling costs of genetic testing:
Genetic Determinants of Human Health Span and Life Span : https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1934400/
Consumer genetic testing market: http://thednageek.com/database-sizes-september-2018-update/
The Future of Nutrigenomics
Future of nutrition: