July 13, 2008

Supplement Your Genes

By Rajen M.

YOUR genes are you. Your destiny is coded in them. So is your health and longevity. Can you change the genetic code and hence change your life? It is the nature versus nurture debate that has been going on all our lives.

Still, we have long suspected that food affects your genes. We have also seen the effects of bad food. It can cause the wrong genes to get turned on. Hence, avoid chemicals and overly cooked and grilled meats.

But good food like vegetables and fruits can pamper the good genes with favourable longevity and health outcomes.

But what about supplements, especially concentrated foods like fish oil, berries and a powerful kitchen spice like turmeric or ginger?

An article published online on June 3, in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences might be of glad tidings for millions who take these supplements despite so much debate over how useful and helpful they are to your health. They do work. They work at a deep gene level that could make you healthier and live longer.

Asper Rine and colleagues at the University of California, Berkeley predict that soon-to-be-available personalised genome sequencing will uncover minor genetic flaws that can easily be corrected with nutrition, enabling people to personalise their supplement routine.

Headlines in this area have really been about the triumph of biomedical research in finding disease genes. This piece of information can be frightening to people.

But then there is more information that will make people want to look at their genome sequence.

Researchers worked on a classical case. Variations in genes responsible for the production of enzymes involved in metabolism affect the efficiency of these enzymes.

While having two copies of a defective gene can result in one of many rare metabolic diseases that can be treated with vitamin supplements, many individuals have only one copy, or have two copies of only slightly defective genes, whose subtle effects on enzymes could also be remedied by vitamin supplementation.

This particular study examined one human enzyme, methylene- tetrahydrofolate reductase (MTHFR). This enzyme requires the B vitamin folate to function properly. The enzyme plays a role in DNA nucleotide synthesis.

Among 564 individuals, three common variants and 11 minor, uncommon genetic variants of MTHFR were found.

When these gene variants were synthesised and inserted into yeast cells, the most common variant and four of the uncommon variants were found to affect the enzyme's function.

However, when they fed the yeast cells with folate (a vitamin), the full functionality to all but one of these was restored.

One defect in the MTHFR enzyme results in elevations of homocysteine. This metabolite has been associated with an elevated risk of heart disease.

"In those people, supplementation of folate in the diet can reduce levels of that metabolite and reduce disease risk," noted the study's lead author Nicholas Marini.

"Our studies have convinced us that there is a lot of variation in the population in these enzymes, and a lot of it affects function, and a lot of it is responsive to vitamins," Dr Marini stated.

"I wouldn't be surprised if everybody is going to require a different optimal dose of vitamins based on their genetic makeup, based upon the kind of variance they are harbouring in vitamin- dependent enzymes."

Dr Rine observed that variations in enzyme activity could be responsible for the conflicting results of some clinical trials on the effect of vitamin supplements. Enzyme profiling of study participants will be useful in the future to improve trial outcome analysis.

The United States army funded this study. It may prove to be valuable for those serving in the military.

"Our soldiers, like top athletes, operate under extreme conditions that may well be limited by their physiology," Dr Rine stated.

"We're now working with the defence department to identify variants of enzymes that are remediable, and hope to identify troops that have these variants and test whether performance can be enhanced by appropriate supplementation."

So you are not a soldier or athlete. That does not mean that you do not have to face the stress and pressures of daily living that could adversely affect your genes. We are fellow humans, some of whom may carry some genetic defects.

Wouldn't it be wonderful if a supplement that is safe, natural and relatively inexpensive could somehow put right the minor defects in your genes?

That would go along way towards making life better and longer. Go ahead, take that supplement. Make sure that it the right type and supplied by a company that you trust.

* Datuk Dr Rajen M. is a pharmacist with a doctorate in holistic medicine. Email him at [email protected]

(c) 2008 New Straits Times. Provided by ProQuest Information and Learning. All rights Reserved.