“…What I'm looking at is what lifestyle things can we change to fully reverse this issue that you have or prevent a health issue despite whether or not you have the genetic predisposition or not. “
In this episode, Natalie explains the concept of nutrigenomics, how our individual genetic makeup can impact our nutrient needs and response to food, and the role of nutrigenomics in our diet for chronic conditions such as diabetes.
Natalie is a functional medicine practitioner, registered dietitian nutritionist, and certified exercise physiologist who focuses on a mind/body approach to healing and balancing from the root cause. She sees patients one-on-one in her private practice, Natalie Nicole Nutrition, LLC, and runs the website functionalmedicinefoodie.com.
Shireen: Podcasting from Dallas, Texas. I am Shireen, and this is a Yumlish podcast. Yumlish is working to empower you to take charge of your health through diet and exercise and reduce the risk of chronic conditions like type 2 diabetes and heart disease. We hope to share a unique perspective and a culturally relevant approach to managing these chronic conditions with you each week.
In today’s episode, we are speaking to Natalie Olsen, who explains the concept of nutrigenomics, how our individual genetic makeup can impact our nutrient needs and response to food and the role of nutrigenomics in our diet as we turn to manage chronic conditions like diabetes. Stay tuned.
Natalie Olsen is a functional medicine practitioner, registered dietician, nutritionist, and certified exercise physiologist who focuses on a mind body approach to healing and balancing from the root cause. She sees patients one-on-one in her private practice. Natalie Nicole Nutrition and runs the website, functional medicine foodie.com. Welcome, Natalie.
Natalie: Hi. Thank you for having me.
Shireen: Thank you for coming on. Natalie, tell us a little bit more about your specific interest in nutrition around Nutrigenomics. Explain to us first what that term is and what brought you to it.
Natalie: Yeah, so I kind of just fell into the world of Nutrigenomics because I just find it to be so fascinating. And I just think it’s such a cool area that’s being studied and it’s constantly being updated and there’s all kinds of new information coming out about it.
But what it is, is the relationship between nutrients and our diet and gene expression. So how all of those things interact with each other. And it really is about our day-to-day diet and nutrients that actually play a huge role on our gene expression. So, it’s more so our daily habits than say like what we’re doing for a week on vacation or over the holidays or something.
But being a functional medicine dietician, I try to get to the root cause of what’s going on with patients. And so, nutrigenomics is just one tool that can be helpful for really explaining. Some issues that might be happening in the body with the patient.
Shireen: So, I find that that world and that intersection is so fascinating. Can you tell our listeners a little bit about why is it even important? Why is this being studied?
Natalie: Yeah. I think it’s just one of those things that we’re finding so much information on how nutrients actually affect our genes and vice versa. And it is such an important thing to look at because it can really give us an idea of what our diet and lifestyle are doing to our genes.
We do know that we have so much control over whether or not a certain gene is going to be expressed. For example, whether it’s in a positive or a negative way. So, for example, you might have a gene that makes you more susceptible to diabetes or to cancer or heart disease, and our lifestyle plays such a big role on whether or not that would be like activated or not.
So, I think that’s one big reason of why it’s being studied so much because it’s giving us a more in-depth look on the relationship between these nutrients and these genes. And it’s a reciprocal type of relationship too. Our genes, we might have what’s called a polymorphism or a single nucleotide polymorphism, also known as a SNP on a certain gene.
And that can give us just a lot of information on how we’re absorbing nutrients, or some of the different pathways that are going on in the body that can give us some information. But then we also know that our lifestyle and our nutrients can affect those genes as well. So, it’s just a really cool study. I think its constantly evolving. Like I said, with all things with nutrition and wellness, or constantly evolving and I think it can give us a lot of good information with patients.
Shireen: Which leads me to, how is this different from sort of traditional nutrition in the way that is practiced today?
Natalie: I think it just depends on what type of practitioner you are. But traditionally, I think the original thought too of a dietician is we’re just handing out meal plans or telling people what they can’t eat, or you know. And it’s become such a world that’s just so much more evolved and involved than that. So it is, again, it’s a place where we can look at different parts of somebody’s lifestyle, including, um, looking, bringing in some different tests like genetics, and we’re able to create more personalized, different patterns of eating for people. Or more personalized recommendations that can really influence the patient on an individual level instead of the more broad recommendations that can be helpful for some people in some populations. But I think Nutrigenomics really lets us pinpoint like what exactly is going on with the genes and where we can expand some of these issues to resolve them in health.
Shireen: So, walk me through some of that. How has this field really impacted the way dieticians like yourself look at diet plans? So, you mentioned the meal planning and here’s that meal plan, but how does something like this really impact the way you provide any kind of meal planning and just the overall role that food plays on someone’s body?
Natalie: So, I think there’s two, two ways that it can be impactful. One, it can let us see if there are SNPs on certain genes, and then that can maybe help us tailor a nutrition plan. But at the same time, I would never just look at their genetics and the nutrients, the SNPs on genes based on nutrients and recommend something only based off of that.
So again, it’s just one piece of the puzzle. I would also go into what’s their current lifestyle like, what’s stress like? Are they sleeping? What is their diet, the day-to-day that they’re eating? What are some of their habits? And we take a look at that in any diagnoses they may have.
We look at labs and we put it all together, and that can help give us an idea of what’s going on. So, for example, you might have a SNP on one of the genes. I’ll use adiponectin is a good example. So, Adiponectin is a hormone that helps regulate glucose and insulin and our lipid management. So, it helps with that management.
So, if you have a SNP on the genes associated with adiponectin. You might be more susceptible to become diabetic or have pre-diabetes, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that you will or that you do have that. So that’s really important to note, is that just because you have the SNP it doesn’t mean that we’re only tailoring based off the genetics and the SNP; the tailoring, the actual nutrition program based off that. But it just gives us an idea of what’s going on genetically, what we might need to pay a little more attention to. So, it kind of goes both ways. We can, we can look at what nutrients do we need more of because of these SNPs or what might we need to improve based on these SNPs.
And then also looking at the genes and saying, okay, we have this SNP so now this gives us a broader idea of potential things that could happen in the body and how can we decrease that from happening or even reverse someone that might have this SNP and also have been diagnosed with diabetes or heart disease or high cholesterol.
We look at that and say, well, what are some things we need to reverse those things? And that’s all lifestyle related, but that lifestyle can actually change our gene expression. So that’s how, it’s kind of that twofold. That plays a role in there.
Shireen: And I’m glad you brought that up because I would like to know how do genetics and lifestyle choices really work together to play a role in our health? Can you help us understand sort of the dynamic?
Natalie: Yeah, I think one thing I talk about a lot with people that comes up is that our genes are not our destiny. So, a lot of people will come in and say, oh, well, it’s genetic. I have diabetes, or I have high cholesterol, and it’s genetic. And it’s almost like this feeling of hopelessness or like there’s nothing I can do. It’s genetic. It’s in my family history.
And I think that thought process can be pretty detrimental for reaching health goals because it kind of makes you feel like there’s nothing you can do. When in reality, our genetics are such a small portion of whether or not we actually get a disease or have health issues.
Our lifestyle plays such a big portion majority of it. On whether or not we have some of these issues come up. So, although the genetics can be helpful, it’s really what I’m looking at is what lifestyle things can we change to fully reverse this issue that you have or prevent a health issue despite whether or not you have the genetic predisposition or not. Because you might have genetic predisposition for cancer or diabetes or something going on, but you may never get that.
And so that’s so important to remind people that it really, we have so much control and you can take your own power back and remember that what we do day to day has such a bigger role on how we are going to feel overall and if we are going to have a disease or if we can reverse a disease or not. So very important topic that I talk about with a lot of people, because I think that’s a big misconception in general.
Shireen: And so, it then becomes that lifestyle and the way you sort of lead that life, which is more on in your hands to do. Then proportionately at least make a lot of impact.
Natalie: Yeah, exactly. I mean, I think it the lifestyle is the huge impact. And t’s not just the diet that’s a very big part of it, our diet. But it is some of those other things that I talked about. Are we managing stress? That’s huge. Are we sleeping? Are we just practicing general self-care too? And it’s talking about our mental health, our emotional health, our physical health.
All of it is so important to look at. And we can start making those little changes. And then you start to see. That we can reverse diabetes, you can reverse high cholesterol and some people in some cases can get off medications. And that’s another thing is some people will get stuck on it and just think, well, it’s genetic.
Everyone in my family has it, I hear that one a lot too as well. Everyone, my grandparents have it. My parents have this, so I’m just destined to have it. And I think if we can retrain that thought process it becomes a lot more empowering and just know. Yeah, you might have family history in those genetics but there’s so many things we can focus on that you actually have control over because we don’t have control over our genetics.
So, focusing on the things we do have control over and see how that plays a role in actually improving the expression of certain genes and then improving our overall lifestyle and how we feel is what’s most important, I think.
Shireen: Speaking of nutrigenomics or essentially genetics, but then also lifestyle. Can you tell us how field is really being used to identify and even prevent any kind of nutrient deficiencies?
Natalie: Yeah, I think there’s a lot of work in that. One of the most common probably that a lot of people have heard of as far as in the genetic world is the MTHFR, which is basically the inability to utilize folate properly.
And it’s a genetic SNP and how we utilize folate. That’s a really common one that I hear about, but there’s those types of SNPs on. I mean, every nutrient that you can think about how we utilize vitamin D or absorb vitamin D. If you have a SNP on the gene that helps us absorb vitamin D or helps you know that whole process of absorption and utilization, then that might mean that you may have low vitamin D.
And I have had this happen recently to where someone said, I just have a hard time getting my vitamin D up and I’m in the sun and I’m getting the amount of sunshine that I say. And then we do the genes and it’s like, okay, well you’ve got this SNP on there, so that could be playing one role in it.
So that also helps with how we’re going to dose certain supplements if there is, and it can help us with what nutrients we need to focus on in the diet. So, if you have that MTHFR, where we’re not able to utilize folate as efficiently, then I would say, let’s add in some dark leafy greens. Because that already has the right form of folate that your body needs to absorb.
So that’s one way that it really can help is we can tailor and say, we need more of these nutrients, or we need this much of this supplement or this form of this supplement. Because you can also do methylated forms of vitamins, which are more bioavailable. And so that can really play a big role in how we’re tailoring recommendations to patients just by looking at that part of it as well. And of course, again, reiterate, it’s also with the symptoms and what’s going on with the patient, but that gives us a lot of guidance in general.
Shireen: So, the context is still needed, but this definitely helps solve some of the riddle around what exactly is going on for that individual. So, I find that really interesting, Natalie. So, one of the things I want to get into now is really talking about type two diabetes. Can you explain to us what is a connection between nutrition, genetics in particular, and type two diabetes, and how you would work with someone who’s trying to navigate and understand how they can prevent diabetes or go into remission? How would you work with them particularly?
Natalie: Yeah. So, when it comes to nutrigenomics and looking at what specific genes or SNPs on certain genes might play a role in a susceptibility to getting diabetes or someone already has it, what genes play a role in them having diabetes? So, there’s a lot of genes that we could look at.
I mentioned adiponectin earlier. That’s just one of the many some of the SNPs around adiponectin, which helps us utilize insulin a little bit better. So, if there’s a SNP there, then that can kind of explain, are we not utilizing insulin very well? Which is going to create, you know, a spike in blood sugar and over time type two diabetes, which is just that high blood sugar or sugar in the blood over time.
So that’s how we can use that as one piece of information. Like, hey, do we have these SNPs on certain genes pertaining to glucose and insulin management? And then from a lifestyle standpoint, we can look at what are some things that we can control. That play a role in whether or not you have diabetes or you don’t. And that’s where we look at, hey, what’s going on with the diet?
Of course, that’s huge. A lot of the SNPs though for diabetes, it is like, hey, are we controlling our carbs? Which is what we would generally say anyways if we didn’t know someone’s genes. In general, we can say to everybody, probably if you’re eating too much added sugar in a day, your lent chances of getting type two diabetes are higher regardless of your genes.
So again, it can give us a little bit of an idea of what’s going on and then we can pair that with what’s going on, a lifestyle, and then we can create a nutrition program and lifestyle program based off of that. I think it is really interesting to look at all the genes that are related to type two diabetes and see how you can bring those in and how it really may or may not impact a patient in general.
Shireen: I’m always sort of fascinated by how what we’re eating actually impacts our genes, right? Like, you usually hear it more the other way around, like your genes are, you know, sort of informing the, the other way. What are some of those nutrients? If you had to just broad based of course. No test here. But broadly based, what are some of those genes that can be influenced and foods that can particularly influence those genes? Again, very focused on someone that either has type two diabetes or in the right at the cusp of it.
Natalie: Yeah, so I gave that example of that MTHFR SNP and how if we know we have that, then we can increase our dark leaf feed greens, and that can help create more bioavailable folate in the body. So, the same thing works for all the blood sugar or the genes that help manage blood sugar. We know that magnesium plays a role in that. Magnesium helps insulin do its job per se. So, focusing on magnesium rich foods like beans and lentils, nuts and seeds can be really helpful.
We know that chromium is really important. Vitamin D is really important. Typically, with vitamin D, if people have a deficiency, I recommend just supplementing because oftentimes just going out and getting enough sun is not going to do it, especially if you have a genetic SNP on that vitamin D. B vitamins are very important.
Like B12 for example, is important for digesting carbohydrates, which carbohydrates are directly affecting our blood sugar. So, you know, just making sure that the most abundance abundant foods with B vitamins are our meat, our animal products. So if you are a vegetarian, that’s another thing to look at is where can we get these nutrients from vegetarian sources.
Just to make sure that we’re covering our bases from a genetic perspective as well. And omega-3 s are another one that’s helpful. So fatty fish, walnuts, chia seeds, flax seeds, those types of things can help lower inflammation and that can again, help with diabetes management and reversal as well.
But it’s a combination of that, I think in general. We don’t have to even make it super complicated. And just if we’re eating a whole foods diet that has fruits and vegetables, you’re going to be hitting all these nutrients that we need to create and optimize the body. And if you are eating meat that you’re having high quality meats, you’re having your fatty fish and getting your omega-3 s.
If you’re not eating meat, you’re having your beans and your lentils and your nuts and seeds, those protein sources that also have the vitamins and minerals to get all of the nutrients that you need that can help create or improve genetic expression. And then decreased likeliness of disease overall.
So really just a well-balanced diet. And in general, I think limiting our process and refined foods of course, is going to work in our favor limiting our added sugar intake. We know that that all de increases inflammation and then that is what can turn on some of those genes that we don’t want to be turned on that are increasing our disease risk.
Again, it goes back, we do have a lot of control and it’s just about how can we implement and put them into practice where we are making sure we’re hitting these goals as far as nutrient intake every day. And it’s not about those one-off things like, I’m going to have a piece of cake, not here or there.
It’s what are we doing daily? Are we drinking soda every day? When’s the last time we actually ate a vegetable or fruit? Looking at those things that happen on a day-to-day basis and starting to reset the body by introducing some of these healthier foods. And then we’ll see that our disease can absolutely you can reverse type two diabetes and you can absolutely prevent it. Diet’s very powerful in that and movement of course as well.
Shireen: Are there any drawbacks when it comes to nutrigenomics?
Natalie: I don’t think there’s necessarily any drawbacks because it really is just one piece of data. I could say that maybe if you’re only looking at that and you’re trying to create a plan, you might be doing something that you don’t necessarily need to do. But yeah, we need to look at the big picture.
I always recommend going over this with a dietician or a doctor or healthcare practitioner who’s pretty well versed in it and knows how to read it. And what we can really do to optimize the gene expression and just the body in general. But no, I think it’s just another data point that can only really be helpful unless we’re not reading it right. Or sometimes I have had people who will get their genomics and there’s a lot of SNPs, which it shows up in red.
So, there’s a lot of red on the page that shows different SNPs on different things. And I think sometimes it can really freak people out. So, it is so important to go over it with practitioner and just know that that does not mean that you’re doomed or that you’re absolutely going to get type two diabetes or heart disease or have these issues.
It’s just giving us some really good data so we know like, hey, yeah, you might have the susceptibility here, but what’s awesome is we can do all of these things to negate that and we can help this process. And so that’s so important for people to know when they’re looking at their genetics, especially with nutrigenomics and how the genes work.
Just because you have that vitamin D receptor issue doesn’t mean you’re always going to be low in vitamin D. Or just because you have the gene SNP for adiponectin. It doesn’t mean you’re going to get type two diabetes at all. So that’s a really important key part of it.
Shireen: And that’s why it’s so important to talk to a dietician, to talk to a health professional, to really understand what that report may mean for you.
Natalie: Right, right.
Shireen: With that, not only we are toward the end of the interview. This is such a rich topic. I feel like we can talk on and on about it. But at this point, would you tell our listeners how they can connect with you and just learn more about your work.
Natalie: Sure. So yeah, I just went through a whole revamp of my website and everything and moved things over tohttps://functionalmedicinefoodie.com/.
So, I work with patients, a limited number of patients, one-on-one, and I do a lot of group seminars. I just have…actually have a new course launching very soon that is all about balancing blood sugar. it’s about balancing blood sugar while still eating carbohydrates. Carbs are pretty demonized in our culture, so it’s just reteaching the body how to optimize your health with the right foods, including the right types of carbs.
And so, I have that launching soon. But all that information is on my website. I’m rarely on Instagram for my business, but @NatalieNicoleNutrition is my handle, which will be switching over to @functionalmedicinefoodie shortly as well. You got me kind of in the middle stage, but yeah, you can find me there.
I’m so grateful that you asked me to be on this podcast I love talking about nutrigenomics, so it’s a fun topic always for me.
Shireen: Absolutely. Thank you again, Natalie, for your time. For our listeners, share with us any information that you learned about nutrigenomics from this episode. Head over to our social media. Facebook, our Instagram page, the Yumlish page there. And find this particular podcast post and comment below this podcast post to essentially tell us what is something new that you learned about nutrigenomics that you didn’t know before from this episode. We will continue the conversation on Facebook and Instagram.
With that, Natalie, thank you so very much.
Natalie: Thank you. Take care.
Shireen: Thank you for listening to the Yumlish Podcast. Make sure to follow us on social media at Yumlish_ on Instagram and Twitter and @Yumlish on Facebook and LinkedIn for tips about managing your diabetes and other chronic conditions, and to chat and connect with us about your journey and perspective.
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