Fat Genes to Skinny Jeans: How Science Can Help You Live Longer

Let me start this article by saying this is an educational post and I’m simplifying things a lot to make it easier to follow along. This  should not replace talking to an actual doctor and/or a genetic counselor. Ok. So, everyone has genes in their DNA in order for the body to know how to build the pieces that make up our bodies. These genes have variations that tell the body to make your eyes a certain color, etc. We are all familiar with this. But did you also know there are gene variations that tell different people’s bodies to do different things with the same foods? When you learn this you can start to see why everyone doesn’t agree on one particular diet as the “best diet”

Scientists are just scratching the surface on all the different variations of these kind of nutrient interaction genes and they call their field nutrigenomics. Some of the gene variations (scientists call them polymorphisms) they’ve found that can tell us if we might want to avoid or include more of certain foods are found on genes with “names” like FADS1, FADS2, MTHFR, NBPF3, FUT2, PEMT, APOE, BCMO1, CYP2R1, and FOXO3.

So back that that whole “best diet” thing . . . How do you find the diet that’s best for you? 

You’re going to need these two tools:

A test for common gene polymorphisms from 23andMe which costs about $99. This is the test that’s going to give us lots of good raw data. They’re not allowed to provide health reports anymore at the moment because the FDA doesn’t want people freaking out when they misinterpret the report (the same reason your doctor has to call you after you get a blood test to go over your results). This company offers an ancestry test too, which is cool, but not the test we’re looking for.

The second tool is called promethease. It’s super cheap (only $5). We’re going to use it to match your raw data from 23andMe with a very large database of over 57,000 published gene polymorphisms. The database is called SNPedia. The SNP stands for Single-nucleotide polymorphism in case you were wondering. I’m not going to go into detail about all this stuff because we all know we can look up more info about things if we want to. The promethease tool will also send you a report about things like your propensity for certain diseases. It takes about 20 minutes to get the results by email. It’s important to note that the reports are consistent with published scientific literature, but there can sometimes be inaccuracies due to gene orientation. If you want to know more about that, go here.


Since you’re familiar with the fact that variations of genetic traits are called Gene Polymorphisms and that these differences can tell you a lot about you’re optimal diet plan you can stop reading now, go ahead and order the tools, and then check your results for specifics after that. Or if you want to get all nerdy now you can keep reading in more detail. Here are some of the common gene polymorphisms to be aware of that can affect how the body absorbs and processes different micronutrients:

The foxo3 gene is very cool. The polymorphisms you want are rs2802292 (G;G) or (G;T). The reason you want it? FOXO3 is associated with longevity. Humans with a polymorphism that makes more of this gene is associated with living to be at least 100 years old. The reason why having more foxo3 is associated with longevity is because it turns on a bunch of genes that are involved in stress resistance, genes that prevent proteins from aggregating, antioxidant genes, genes that repair damage to your DNA, genes that kill cancer cells, and more.

Folate (vitamin B9) is a precursor (this means it is used to make something else that does something) for two important bodily functions: The first, is making many new cells in the stomach and brain. And the second; it plays an important role in epigenetics and converting homocysteine back into the amino acid methionine. The folate metabolism pathway has a group of polymorphisms in the gene known as MTHFR. People with MTHFR polymorphisms can make new DNA from dietary folate (or supplemental folic acid), but they do not produce methyl groups efficiently which can lead to higher than normal homocysteine levels and a bunch of vascular diseases including stroke, coronary artery disease, and dementia. The good news is studies have shown that by supplementing with L­5­MTHF, vitamin B12, and riboflavin people are able to circumvent these shortcomings, and bring down their homocysteine levels.

Approximately 46% of the population is heterozygous (from one parent) for the polymorphism s4654748, which is associated with the the NBPF3 gene and results in 1.45 ng/ml lower plasma levels of vitamin B6 than normal. People who are homozygous (from both parents) for this polymorphism have 2.90 ng/ml lower vitamin B6 levels.

Common variations in the FUT2 gene either increase or decrease the absorption of vitamin B12. Sublingual vitamin B12 has been shown to be an effective way to fix poor absorption. About 49% of the population is heterozygous for s602662 (A;G) polymorphism that results in ~15% lower plasma vitamin B12 levels than normal. The same effect is observed in homozygotes (G;G), because the polymorphism causes B12 malabsorption. About 30% of population has a polymorphism in rs492602 (C;C) that results in ~1.5 times higher plasma levels of vitamin B12 than normal.

Provitamin A carotenoids are readily converted to vitamin A by BCMO1. There are some polymorphisms (s12934922, s7501331, s7501331, s12934922, rs656485, rs6420424, rs11645428, and rs8044334) in the BCMO1 gene that reduce the ability and efficiency of beta carotene to be converted into retinal by 30 – 70%. Animal protein has the active form of vitamin A and supplements can be taken with caution since too much vitamin A can be toxic.

Common polymorphisms in the FADS gene (s1535) can elongate polyunsaturated fatty acids like alpha­linolenic acid (ALA) and decrease or increase this conversion into eicosapentenoic acid (EPA). ALA is found in plants. EPA is found in fish. Therefore influencing how much fish a person with one of these polymorphisms should consume. A common polymorphism (s174537) of the FADS1 gene affects the levels of the inflammatory mediator arachidonic acid. And another (s174548) in the FADS1 affects phosphatidylcholine levels, which affects all biological functions because of it’s affect on cell structure and it’s function as a precursor for the neurotransmitter acetylcholine.

Phosphatidylethanolamine­N­methyltransferase (PEMT) catalyzes the synthesis of phosphatidylcholine and choline in the liver. Phosphatidylcholine plays an important role in cell membranes (especially in neurons), but it is important in the liver because it’s required for the liver to secrete triglycerides into very low density lipoproteins (VLDL cholesterol). Less phosphatidylcholine can lead to less fat removal from the liver and fatty liver. The polymorphism associated with this is s7946.

The polymorphisms associated with CYP2R1 can result in low 25­OHD (vitamin D) levels. They are rs10741657 (G;G),  rs12794714 (A;A), and rs2060793 (A;A). Lower circulating levels of 25­OHD has been associated with reduced longevity and higher mortality. Vitamin D supplementation and regular blood tests to check for serum levels might be recommended.

Four different variations of the apoE gene encode for lipoproteins made in the liver and in astrocytes in the brain. A quarter of the population has one apoE4 allele ( rs429358 (C;T) and rs7412 (C;C) ) which results in higher blood LDL and increased risk for Alzheimer’s disease. Two apoE4 alleles ( rs429358 (C;C) and rs7412 (C;C) )carry greater risk.

Knowledge is half the battle.

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