One of the big promises of the Human Genome Project was that it was heralding in a new era of medical treatments as genes were predicted to the root of much of the chronic disease experienced today. However, since its completion in 2003, genetics has been found to account for only about 10% of diseases.
Each of us inherits our own unique set of genes. We can’t change the hardwiring of our genetic code (hair and eye color, etc), but epigenetic factors such as lifestyle, environmental exposures and diet can radically change what our genes do or how they “express”. One positive attribute to evolve out of the Human Genome Project is concept of the “exposome”. The exposome is defined as the measure of all the exposures of an individual in a lifetime and how those exposures relate to health. An individual’s exposure begins in utero and includes exposures from environmental and occupational sources. Understanding how these exposures from our lifestyle choices and environment interact with our genes, physiology, and metabolism and thus impact our health, can be keys in helping us to experience long term, optimal health. Basically, certain environmental exposures, nutrient deficiencies and lifestyle choices can turn genes off and on!
This is not to say that genes do not have a powerful influence on our susceptibility to disease. They do! However, in most cases, genetic predispositions will often only manifest in the presence of certain environmental factors. The obesity epidemic is a very good example. In the last 40 years, our genes have not changed very much but during that 40 year time span, we’ve seen an exponential increase in the rates of obesity. Genetics are clearly not the primary driver of this obesity epidemic. There are genes that may predispose some people to obesity more than others. However, what’s most often the “genetic” cause of obesity is that the obese person has similar genes to the parent but they ALSO have similar lifestyle choices (diet and physical activity) and live in the same environment which cause that ‘obesity gene’ to express. Change the diet, remove environmental toxicities and a healthier weight is achieved. The tricky part is that while exposure to a certain toxic element may contribute to obesity in one person, it may affect another person in a totally different way causing that person to develop high blood pressure or an auto immune disorder.
Another popular genetic test right now is the MTHFR testing. The MTHFR gene…everyone has it…some of the genes in some people just don’t copy very well. Among the most likely reasons for the copying errors and thus variants of the enzyme are zinc deficiency and the presence of toxic metal poisoning such as mercury and copper toxicity. Copper, for example, directly antagonizes or blocks the action of zinc in some cases. This is critical to understand because these copying problems can be reversed, at least in some cases.
This concept can be very empowering. To know that your environment, not genetics, is the primary driver of your health and disease is enough to motivate one into healthier lifestyle choices. How demoralizing is it to think your genes are the only determinant of your health? There wouldn’t be much motivation to optimize your environment or lifestyle choices would there? But now knowing that the choices we make in our lifetime predict 90% of our risk of disease and early death, we have a strong reason to take action to improve our health.
Where do you start? First of all, test. Are there toxic elements in your environment? Are you excreting them efficiently? There are two important tests to consider when answering these questions. A Hair Elements test shows what toxic elements and nutrient elements you’ve excreted for about a 4-6 months period. However, just because it’s not coming out in the hair doesn’t mean it’s not in you. That’s where the next test come in… Urinary Toxic Element Challenge. The test takes 2 days to complete. The Day 1 is a 6 hour urine collection to see what the individual is excreting on their own within that 6 hour period (vs the slower 6 months period via hair). On Day 2, another 6 hour urine collection but this time you take a chelating agent prior to the urine collection. This will show what may be stored that the body isn’t excreting efficiently.
There are many benefits (and some limitations) to both tests but doing both tests give you a better overall picture of your excretion abilities as well as our ability to help you improve excretion rates.
Finally, blood work. A good overall metabolic profile is the best way to determine if you’re following the correct diet, if you need to supplement your diet or make changes to your supplement regimen and to make sure there isn’t anything critical creeping up on you. Many diseases can be seen in the blood long before you have symptoms.
By knowing deficiencies and toxicities that make up one’s metabolic analysis, one can evaluate their lifestyle and make better choices to optimize their health. It’s not easy knowing where to start. That is where your experienced nutritionist can help you by analyzing your comprehensive test results. Ask us today on how you can start on your way towards better health!
CDC Website accessed 05/2015.
Exposome and Exposomics Overview http://www.cdc.gov/niosh/topics/exposome/