DNA re­veals the best diet for you

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Health - Stephen Pin­cock

WHEN Michael Fenech sits down to din­ner, he looks at the food on his plate rather dif­fer­ently to the rest of us. For Fenech, a prin­ci­pal re­searcher with the CSIRO’s Hu­man Nu­tri­tion cen­tre in Ade­laide, tasty morsels of meat and veg­eta­bles are more than just fuel to keep his body run­ning. They also con­tain nu­tri­ents that have the po­ten­tial to pro­tect his DNA from se­ri­ous dam­age, and af­fect his chances of fall­ing ill.

Fenech has spent the past 20 years study­ing the nu­tri­ents we need to keep our genes healthy, and how our ge­netic makeup in­flu­ences the way we re­spond to food.

That work has put him at the fore­front of a new sci­en­tific dis­ci­pline known as nu­trige­nomics’’, which brings to bear a de­tailed un­der­stand­ing of how hu­mans dif­fer from one an­other in ge­netic terms and ap­plies it to the tra­di­tional science of nu­tri­tion.

It’s also a field that’s poised to take on grow­ing im­por­tance given the re­cent po­lit­i­cal em­pha­sis on pre­ven­tive’’ health care, as high­lighted in this week’s fed­eral bud­get. Ad­vo­cates say nu­trige­nomics could al­low us to tai­lor our di­ets to our in­di­vid­ual ge­netic char­ac­ter­is­tics — po­ten­tially help­ing us lose weight more ef­fec­tively, avoid can­cer, say good­bye to binge drink­ing and live to a ripe old age.

Fo­late — vi­ta­min found in leafy veg­eta­bles, for­ti­fied grain prod­ucts and other foods — is a good ex­am­ple of how nu­tri­ents can af­fect our genes, Fenech says.

When one has in­ad­e­quate in­take of fo­late, the DNA in the cells can be dam­aged, or frag­mented, or the ex­pres­sion of the genes can be altered,’’ he says. This can have a dra­matic ef­fect on our chro­mo­somes, caus­ing as much dam­age as car­cino­genic doses of ra­di­a­tion.

Sim­i­lar dam­age may re­sult from de­fi­cien­cies in other nu­tri­ents such as cal­cium, mag­ne­sium, retinol, nico­tinic acid, vi­ta­min E and vi­ta­min B12, adds Fenech.

And as our cells grow and di­vide the dam­age can ac­cu­mu­late, a prob­lem as­so­ci­ated with in­fer­til­ity, de­vel­op­men­tal de­fects in the foe­tus, can­cer, Alzheimer’s dis­ease and other con­di­tions.

But avoid­ing th­ese un­healthy out­comes is not a sim­ple mat­ter of ev­ery­one boost­ing their nu­tri­ent in­take a cer­tain amount, Fenech says. Each of us car­ries within our cells dif­fer­ent forms of genes that af­fect how our bod­ies ab­sorb and use the nu­tri­ents we need, such as fo­late and vi­ta­min B12.

At this point in time, we’re as­sum­ing that the nu­tri­tional re­quire­ments are the same for ev­ery­one and that ev­ery­one ab­sorbs the nu­tri­ents in the same way — well, that’s not the case.’’

Fenech’s work is giv­ing us an im­por­tant in­sight into the de­tailed me­chan­ics of how good di­etary choices keep us healthy, says nu­tri­tion­ist Rose­mary Stan­ton. Michael

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