Embracing the 'omes - PART I: Genome and gut health

Embracing the 'omes - PART I: Genome and gut health

Our health is not set with our genes.  There are so many levers in life that can help us to maximise wellness. Our approach at PhycoHealth is to focus on supporting health through what we eat. Multiple, chronic, lifelong diseases that plague our society are in large part due to what we eat, or don't eat. Other lifestyle choices are also just as important as your diet. Sleep, moderate exercise and an active mind are all part of the recipe to support your health in addition to what our genome dictates. It is exciting to watch the expansion of knowledge about just how much we can influence our health throughout life; by making the right choices on top of the set of genes that we were given; our genome. 

Genes and gut disorders: complexity!

It is known that some people don’t express a gene called FUT and are more prone to gut disorders such as IBD and Crohn’s disease. However, these people also seem to be protected against other diseases, such as sudden Salmonella infection and certain viruses; so you win some and you lose some. This gene also has many variations across people and so the effect of this genes varies across individuals as well.

However, it has also been found that these gut disorders are also more common in people with inadequate Vitamin A, D and folate, as well we as magnesium, zinc, iron, B12 and dietary fibre playing a role in these patterns. These nutrient deficiencies are also linked to poor mouth mucosa and health, which is also more common in people with gut disorders. So, there might be a predisposition to a gut health condition in your family, but what you eat, or rather don’t eat, can be the tipping point for whether you get the disease or not.

Appreciate the complexity of health and simply embrace diversity 

We shouldn't feel overwhelmed by needing to understand the complexity of health, because not even science has put it all together yet. In fact, this is our key message; science doesn’t have all of the answers, but it can guide us to the best approach. Diversification of our food intake is one approach that is probably common for all, and that our mission at PhycoHealth. Sometimes a change can be as simple as including some seaweed in your diet. Other times it will require diversifying your diet in all sorts of ways, in addition to improving your exercise, sleep and mental stimulation. Throughout life you will also change, and your food needs will change.

The industrialized diet is too simplified

The industrialisation of food made the error of oversimplifying categories of nutrition into fats, carbohydrates, protein, vitamins and minerals. We used to believe that this was a simple recipe that would work for all of us. Although the food industry is changing and catching up on its all-important role in fueling the health of our society, there is little appreciation for just how complex each of these categories really is. Our challenge now is to diversify our food to respect how COMPLEX our bodies and gut health are. Adding to this, each person is an individual with unique needs and solutions. We do need a degree of personalized diets based on our genetic make-up. 

What is important for you is not to be worried about the details of how this works, but to appreciate that these interactions are there and this means that you can try different things and do something about it.

There is not a single solution for the diversity of people

The message of increasing dietary fibre, minerals and vitamins might make you reach straight for the broccoli. I love brocolli and it works well for me and most people. However, there are also other genes that interact with a diversity of the natural chemicals that we get in foods. Broccoli actually doesn’t suit everyone and in some people bok choy is a better choice. Sometimes foods that for most of the population are super healthy and important for our guts, are not as suitable for others where their individual genetic traits that means that some people get an immune response to these foods in their guts. These foods can also include rocket (arugula), tomatoes, mushrooms, mustard and wasabi…. Or many other things that are uniquely unsuitable just for you. This is where diversifying foods, listening to your own body, and changing the diversity again will lead you to your diet. This is a little bit what the FODMAPS Diet is about. Sometimes elimination will be the answer, but putting back and diversifying will be the answer to finding out what you are missing, or what you don’t tolerate.

Don’t just eliminate; put back and diversify

We shouldn’t be scared and confused about our food choices. At PhycoHealth we believe that overthinking your diet, and your health, is not healthy! We believe that the first step is to consider putting back diversity in foods, rather than taking out, so you can test and feel what works for you. Putting seaweed into familiar foods adds diversity in a simple way; backed up by concentrated components when these are simply just deficient, as for fibre and Omega-3 in most of us. Seaweed can fill in some of the gaps that the modern food manufacturing system does not support well. Attaining and maintaining your personal level of good health should be as simple and enjoyable as possible, with a diversity approach that encompasses our health complexity, and you will find the right recipe for you.

Filling the gaps

Back in 2009 I wrote a report outlining a few different species of seaweed in Australia, and how these could nutritionally fill gaps in our modern diet. If you want to read a very long report then this is good putting you to sleep material. The important message is that seaweed can be a simple solution for filling in the gaps in many diets.

Michael Pollan is an American journalist and writer who explores food, and coined the phrase “Eat food. Not too much.  Mostly plants.  We should be eating very diverse wholefoods, mostly plants with a lot of colour, and a bit of seaweed. Cooking ourselves is the best way to achieve this, and in combination with an overall lifestyle routine that includes adequate exercise, sleep, a thinking mind and avoidance of toxins and pollutants, you can give yourself the best chance of lifelong health.

Disease is not something that we can always blame on our genes, and with the right choices we can often prevent, and sometimes overcome our genetic risk factors. There will be more parts to this blog series, including how the same lifestyle choices affect other drivers of our health, including what genes get turned on (epigenome), the direct products of our genes (the proteome), the very underappreciated role and number of fats in our body (600 and counting in our lipidome), and the important carbohydrate signatures that drive our whole systems and keep us together (the glycome), and finally how all of this interacts with the second “us” (the microbiome).