Are your health secrets hiding in your DNA?

From left to right: Angelique Johnson, Justina Owusu, Priya Krishnakumar, Colby Teeman and Padideh Haddadian received hands-on research experience in exploring their individual genetic makeup to improve preventive actions.

If you could see the future, would you change your current lifestyle? Five doctoral students from the Department of Dietetics and Nutrition at FIU’s Robert Stempel College of Public Health and Social Work recently took a closer look at their DNA to find out exactly what their bodies need for optimal health based on a personalized analysis.

Angelique Johnson, Padideh Haddadian, Priya Krishnakumar, Justina Owusu and Colby Teeman received scholarships from University of North Carolina’s Nutrition Research Institute (NRI) to participate in the 2017 Nutrigenetics, Nutrigenomics and Precision Nutrition Workshop. This three-day program gave them hands-on research experience in exploring their individual genetic makeup to improve preventive actions.

Nutrigenomics is a field in dietetics and nutrition that is quickly gaining popularity and attention for its fortune telling, so to speak. By presenting doctors with better insight and accuracy, patients can look toward a better future in which medications and diet plans are prescribed just for them.

“Before the conference, I felt as though my medication was not working, but I couldn’t imagine how that could be,” Johnson said. “After the conference, I discovered that my genetics were preventing it from working properly.”

She discovered eight different genetic markers with specific DNA base pairings that render certain antidepressants and anxiety medications ineffective. Realizing this, she presented her findings to her physician and they found a more appropriate fit.

The driving force behind nutrigenomics is to learn how to improve one’s health and prevent disease by examining one’s DNA, while observing if the DNA base pair combination on a specific gene is harmful or protective.

For example, Teeman says that nutrigenomics allows doctors to set specific recommendations for what a patient should eat based on genes that are linked to different nutritional factors such as saturated fat, caffeine and sodium.

Krishnakumar was also shocked to learn that she was predisposed to cardiovascular disease and high blood pressure. This new information is guiding her efforts to develop and maintain a healthier lifestyle through diet and exercise.

The information can be useful for both doctors and patients in terms of medication effectiveness, weight loss, disease prevention and many other beneficial health-related planning.

Jessica Suarez contributed to this report.