5 ways you can help your patients through Nutrigenomics consulting services!

How I started my non-traditional career as a Nutrigenomics consultant.

Pharmacists have become the healthcare paradigm shifters in the last 45 years, in addition to elevating the profession we have moved on to exploring and leading towards more and more nontraditional roles and endeavors. The last 2 years we continued our consolidated efforts and became essential team players as frontline healthcare leaders and went above and beyond our professional and human capacities to help tackle the Pandemic. Pharmacists no longer are considered “pill counters”, “just put a label on it and give to patient personnel” or “hospital basement workers”. Pharmacists have been successfully creating entrepreneurial careers in health care space and the best is yet to come.

Nutrigenomics will be the future of how we eat! Let’s just say personalized diets are the future!

Nutri what?... I was a little confused, reading about Nutrigenomics as an emerging science in one of the renowned scientific journals just a few years ago.

I didn’t give it much significance, back then my clinically trained mind was frantically looking for new data and guideline updates mostly pertaining to drug-disease recommendations.

My first real interest in Nutrigenomics was sparked after watching the “The Dynamic Genome” documentary and how much our nutrition, lifestyle and genes are intertwined and involved in predisposition, or risk mitigation for certain chronic disease states, moreover how pivotal is epigenetics’ role in this paradigm.

Learning more about alleles, single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNP’s), genome, haplotypes, coding and non-coding regions of DNA, and precision nutrition wasn’t on my bucket list after graduating Pharmacy School, and only in recent years I dove into precision medicine and precision nutrition to understand why some of my chronic disease patients weren’t benefiting from same healthy nutritional recommendations according to ADA and MyPlate. My conclusion “One size does not fit all” soon became a reality and an aha moment!

Chronic disease epidemic is real! We, as a society must change the way we approach to nutrition, otherwise chronic disease statistics predictions are grim. Obesity constitutes a significant health burden worldwide, becoming root cause of large number of health problems, such as dyslipidemias, type 2 Diabetes, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, some types of cancers, causing health, social and economic burden across the globe.

Knowledge on how food interacts with our genes, and how our body responds to these interferences, along with epigenetic factors, is what Nutrigenomics’ promise consists of. This rapidly evolving scientific field is tailoring the framework for the genotype driven dietary recommendations, evidence-based solutions to dietary interventions and hopefully tackling chronic disease epidemic worldwide.

Regarding type 2 Diabetes, there’s robust and growing evidence, showing some food component and genes’ beneficial interaction. For instance, bioactive substances such as quercetin, genistein, resveratrol, catechins, curcumin and anthocyanins have shown beneficial and protective effects related to type 2 Diabetes. Through affecting insulin secretion and signaling, inflammatory processes, oxidative stress, glucose and lipid metabolism, the interaction of these active substances and relevant genes produces beneficial effect in the prevention and management of type 2 Diabetes.

Nutrigenomics connects nutrition to genome and studies the bidirectional interactions between genes and our diet, specifically exploring the genetic relationship of the food we eat, environmental factors, lifestyle and its correlation to prevention and treatment of chronic diseases. After the completion of Human Genome Project (1990-2003), where the DNA sequence of the entire human genome was mapped out, the era of precision medicine took off and nutrient-gene interplay concept was born.

Imagine if your diet is not optimal and is more of like SAD (Standard American Diet), you will most likely have variety of nutritional deficiencies sending those poor signals to your genes to not function at an optimal level. Even more fascinating discovery to me was learning about DNA methylation as a crucial epigenetic mechanism.

Our epigenome essentially is all the structural and chemical changes made to our DNA through methylation and what DNA methylation does is pretty much keeping your DNA curled in and protected in the nucleus, and not exposed, since more exposure will make more errors happening and higher chances of chronic disease occurrence.

Minimally processed foods, fresh fruits and vegetables and balanced meal plans are good for everyone. Food and Nutrition guidelines designed by government agencies cover large groups of general population, but precision nutrition as a crucial part of individualized or personalized approach to health, takes into consideration genomic differences, epigenetics, patient’s age, gender, comorbidities, microbiome, and environmental influences as well.

The bottom line: Your Genes Are Not Your Final Verdict

It is evident that Nutrigenomics and personalized medicine are paving the way and creating evidence based scientific insights for the prevention, treatment and management of chronic diseases and hold the promise of the ability to reduce risk factors for chronic illnesses regardless of our genetic blueprint. Using the power of Nutrigenomics/epigenetics, human microbiome, and our individual characteristics we can control our genetic destiny, negotiate with ‘’ poorly working’’ genes utilizing precision nutrition as an additional tool in the arsenal of personalized health approach. It is important to note that Nutrigenomics testing is not a stand-alone diagnostic tool to detect, diagnose and manage disease, rather it’s another helpful approach to manage subpopulations, who carry significant polymorphisms altering their ability to metabolize nutrients in an efficient way.

Now how can Pharmacists position themselves as Nutrigenomics experts and stand out in our ever-evolving profession?

Here are 5 ways you can help your patients and educate health care providers to understand the unique interconnection between nutrition -chronic disease-and their genes.

1. Help patients know their genetic blueprint; the technology is advanced and now is available to consumers.

By becoming a certified Nutrigenomics consultant, you can educate your patients on this new emerging field and be of great information source to dig deeper and understand how food choices react with their genes and environment and contribute to prevention or formation of various chronic disease states.

2. You can help your patients learn their SNPs.

You can educate patients to learn more about genetic polymorphisms or SNPs, or in other words different “traits” and whether these changes in their genes are making them essentially ‘faster’ or ‘slower’ metabolizers. Also, help patients understand micronutrients and macronutrient’s role in genes’ function. Patients feel lost looking at the Nutrigenomics report, you can absolutely use your expertise and guide them through the summary of recommendations, increase their awareness and help change their diet and health behaviors.

3. You can educate your patients and tailor personalized diet plans for them, based on their Nutrigenomics report in conjunction with other non-medicinal approaches to bettering their health

Ask your patient what does their diet look like? Are they eating a lot of processed carbohydrates or foods that may affect their gene expression? For example, some nutrients like bioavailable vitamin B12 are only obtainable from animal proteins, so for patients following mainly plant-based diets, you may want to ensure they are getting enough vitamin B12 for proper methylation, which is needed to keep disease-causing genes switched ‘off.’

4. You can help address your patients’ unique epigenetic factors.

Identify and address the epigenetic factors that are affecting their genetic expression and current health status. This includes things like acute or chronic stress, mold exposure, dysbiosis, diet, sleep, and many other lifestyle and environmental factors in their life.

5. Become the Nutrigenomics expert, stand out in the crowd, and educate health care providers as well!

Patients are becoming increasingly aware of the Pharmacogenomic and Nutrigenomic testing availability and may even order these through variety of Direct-to-consumer companies, which are not easy to understand for majority of people.

You, as a forward-thinking Pharmacist, certified in Nutrigenomics, can start serving your patients in a more meaningful way to help them first use food as medicine and eat what’s right for them.

Importantly, your advice to patients should not be based solely on Nutrigenomic test results but use Nutrigenomics as an additional tool in your expert toolbox to find unanswered questions to health concerns that your patient may have been looking for years. Remember, health care providers don’t typically talk about diet, nutrition, and personalized medicine with their patients due to existing health care model in our country, where patient-provider interaction time is very limited. You can be the greatest support tool and expert Nutrigenomics consultant for many primary care physicians who will greatly appreciate your expertise.

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