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Gene-Environment Interaction

Our traits are basically divided into genetic and environmental. Genetic factors are the ones a person is born with, and a large chunk of these factors are inherited from the previous generations. Environmental factors include chemical, physical, nutritional, infectious and behavioural factors. Many prevailing diseases such as diabetes and cancer are caused by the complex interplay of genetic and environmental factors. Both the factors will play a part in influencing the diseases. Some may be more influenced by the genetic factors while others will be largely affected by the environmental factors. But, most of the diseases are always associated with the genetic makeup and many inherited diseases can be influenced by environmental conditions.

Some genetic effects are seen only in certain environmental conditions

If you have a genetic predisposition to antisocial behaviour, you may not demonstrate the trait until you experience abuse or neglect in your childhood. If you have had a stress-free and normal  childhood, you will never express this specific genetic trait. The expression of a specific trait towards which you are genetically predisposed  can be prevented by protective environmental factors. If you have a predisposition to alcohol abuse and live in an alcohol-prohibited environment, it may not express itself. Thus, protective genetic factors have a comparatively less significant  effect if environmental exposure is strong.

Few environmental effects are visible only under certain genetic conditions

Response to environmental exposure depends on the genotype, which is a term that defines your genetic make-up for a specific trait/disease. If you have had stress in your early life, it may cause depression in later years. This is only when certain genotypes are present. A person’s genotype can also determine their response to specific medications and their side-effects through various biochemical mechanisms. There is an entire branch of science that studies this called Pharmacogenomics.

Sometimes, genetic effects can influence your environment too



If we can identify our genes and characterize their interactions with the environment, we can have intervention strategies to target them. Therefore, when studying the genetic make-up of individuals to determine their natural predisposition towards certain traits and diseases, it is very important to take into consideration the environmental factors like diet, lifestyle, work environment etc, to be able to characterize their inclination towards these traits and their risk for developing specific diseases.



The greatest wealth that one can ever earn is good health! Health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity. In the recent years, one of the best aspects of health care reform is that it has started to emphasize on prevention. When we talk about prevention, it is certain that identification (or in medical terms diagnosis) of any health disorder is elemental for its prevention. Whenever there is a mention about diagnosis, we systematically follow an ‘ABCD’ pattern, that is., Anthropometry (height, weight, BMI and other physical determinants), biochemical parameters (biological markers, for instance blood, urine, sputum), Clinical presentations (Blood Pressure, body temperature, consciousness) and finally Dietary considerations (meal pattern, frequency of consumption of different foods, food allergies to name a few). But still the fact that genetic make-up of a person decides his/her physical appearance, intelligence, behavioral patterns, health outcomes and ageing pattern is compelling enough to allocate space for genetic aspects in wellness and disease prevention approaches.

Credit: Eessense Nutrition
Credit: Eessense Nutrition

The effect of dietary factors on health status has been recognized since antiquity. Food and its components directly or indirectly influence gene expression. Genetic predispositions in turn dictate unique dietary needs and requirements. Nutrigenetics, a field of Life Science aims to identify genetic susceptibility to diseases and the vital role of genetic variation in affecting the nutrient intake. While Nutrigenomics focuses on the effect of food and food constituents on gene expression. According to Nutrigenetics, the current science of food and the nutrition it provides when interweaved with genetic insights and applied mindfully, can have a myriad restorative and therapeutic capacity to cure health disorders.  ‘One size fits all’  approach  to  dietary and fitness recommendations leaves a gap which stands miles away from best desirable results for an individual. Hence,a personalized health care approach focusing on lifestyle modification is built on the basis of genetic assessment.

Synergistic role of genetic assessment and lifestyle in a healthy life

Credit: Nestle institute of health science

A small genetic change, or variation, that occurs within a person’s DNA sequence can have an impact on his/her nutrient metabolism. Genetic assessment will give you a clear picture of your genetic information in relation to a nutrient metabolism which in turn has relevance to health conditions. Genetic risks may be offset by favorable changes in lifestyle. Lifestyle is a comprehensive approach featuring diet, physical activity, stress management and personal habits. Amongst the three strong pillars for a healthy life, that is., diet, exercise and sleep, diet is rated the top most.

Genetic assessment aims to develop rational means to optimize the lifestyle of an individual with respect to his/ her genotype. This personalized health approach promotes disease prevention in the long run. For instance, your meal pattern, meal timings and even the type of snacks can be recommended to suit you best if you understand the pattern of genes like FTO, LEP, LEPR and CCK which influence appetite, meal quantity, satiety response and the urge to snack. Individuals carrying a variation in such genes tend to have a difficulty in following proper meal timings and meal quantities and thereby they are likely to overeat. A balanced diet with adequate dietary fiber, and healthy snacks timed appropriately can prove beneficial in their weight control.

Likewise, the type of cooking oil that you should be using or the type of nuts that you should be consuming to stay heart-healthy by maintaining optimal triglyceride levels is decided by a gene called APOA5. A variation in the APOA5 gene may demand from you a revised recommendation for n-6 fatty acids (<6% of total calories compared to the general recommendation of <10% of total calories) to help you in maintaining your triglyceride levels.

Your digestive tolerance for milk & its products is also decided by your genes. Variations in MCM6 gene may demand from you fermented milk products intake to compensate for reduced lactase activity and to stay flatulence-free. Can you drink 3 cups of coffee in a day or should it necessarily be alternated with another refreshing beverage like green tea? Is another question to which the answer is in your genes like CYP1A2.

AGT gene encodes for Angiotensinogen, which causes sodium retention in the body. Individuals with a genetic variation show increased sensitivity to dietary salt intake. Revised salt restriction norms (<3.5 grams of table salt as against <5 grams given by WHO) are recommended to maintain optimal sodium levels and prevent hypertension in these individuals.

Know your genes! Sow healthy habits and reap lifelong wellness.

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