Over the last decade or so, the world of genetics has undergone quite a paradigm shift. The new science of epigenetics has emerged, and with it our health realities have started to change. We were no longer doomed to the health pitfalls that lurked in our family tree. In fact, there are many things we could do to influence our health, wellness and genetic expression.
This is all well and good. But often the question lies in the ‘how’. How do we change our health future? How do we target the hypertensive gene, or the diabetic gene? What specific actions will throw the switches into the ‘off’ position so we can live free of such blights?
Dr Margaret Smith is a leader in the world of nutrigenomics and a leading geneticist in Australia. She has been involved in cancer screening in the past, instrumental in developing cost effective screening techniques for certain cancers, as well as being involved in the Human Variome Project, and a member of the Victorian Cooperative Oncology Group (Cancer Genetics Advisory Committee).
Recently, her career has seen her put pen to paper, authoring the book “Gene Genius” which discussed ways we can screen our genes in order to understand and minimise the risks hidden within it. The book answers specific questions such as “Why does a certain diet see fat melting off my friend, but I struggle to lose 500 grams on the same plan?” The answer to this, and many more questions, lies inside genes that can actually be screened and understood so they can in turn be influenced.
“The world is moving toward personalisation. People are realising that broad brushstrokes may not work for them,” she said in a recent interview with The Wellness Guys. “There’s no such thing as good or bad genes. It is what it is and we have to love what we’ve got.”
Perhaps the best way to ‘love what we’ve got’ is to understand it. There are genes that predispose us to weight gain, mental illness, stress, cancer, heart disease, diabetes, drug or alcohol dependencies and much more. But that doesn’t mean we have to accept these as inevitable. How we go about preventing them can be tailored to the individual.
Smith co-founded ‘SmartDNA’ to help practitioners discover, understand and decode what is going on in the genes of their patients and practice members. Chiropractors and practitioners such as Damian Kristof are among those who have offered praise for the program.
“In terms of our genome and what we can actually do, there are many ways we can actually improve health and look at preventative health,” says Smith. She goes on to talk about the so-called ‘fat gene, which is prone to more methylation. “It kind of epigenetically gets locked down and doesn’t function properly. Sometimes those individuals have problems getting a ‘full’ signal. If you want to alter that genetically, then we know that exercise basically throws off those methol tags that are like handcuffs on that gene, improving a person’s leptin response. They have much better full signals. They tend not to overeat. We know if you have two copies of that particular variant, then eating more protein and lower fat diet will also assist in weight management. So it’s about using that knowledge to improve our health outcomes.”
It’s an example of how, if we understand our genome, we can tailor an eating plan that fits more perfectly with our genetic makeup. But Smith’s research-backed suggestions aren’t limited to diet alone.
“Sometimes gene changes change the efficiency with which the enzyme or protein works. In those instances, sometimes those individuals will need active supplementation to step in behind the parts of the pathway that those proteins or enzymes effect, and take over that step where they aren’t working very well .”
These are just two examples of how lifestyles, diets and supplements can be tailored to work with the genetic reality of the individual. This backs up the idea that there is no one size fits all approach to health, exercise or nutrition.
Among the breadth of topics gene genius touches on are the impact of environmental toxins and the repair machinery built into the genes. Sadly, the impact of environmental toxins sometimes means this repair machinery isn’t empowered to do its job.
The culture surrounding health and wellness is changing. While gene screening won’t be for everyone, it may prove eye-opening and empowering for others. Once again, there’s no ‘one size fits all answer,’ but putting all the options in the hands of our practice members so they can be empowered to take control of their health is an incredible thing.
 Hill, B, Kristof, D and Tham L (2015), “TWG 218: The Gene Genie with Margie Smith,” The Wellness Guys Podcast
 Staff Writer, (2015), “About the Author: Dr Margaret Smith,” Harlequin Books, http://www.harlequinbooks.com.au/author/dr-margaret-smith
Staff Writer, (2015), “Smart DNA,” http://www.smartdna.com.au/