Fish oil is one of the most commonly used dietary supplements. It is rich in omega-3 fatty acids. It has been known to protect against heart diseases, lower blood pressure, and lower triglyceride levels.
According to a recent study published in the journal PLOS Genetics, the beneficial effect of fish oil on triglycerides is seen only in people with a certain type of genetic makeup.
Triglycerides (TG) are the most common type of fats present in your body. TG are commonly found in foods like butter, margarines, and oils. The extra calories that the body doesn’t need to use right away are also stored as triglycerides.
High triglyceride levels are considered to be a marker (indicator) for heart diseases. A blood sample reading of less than 150 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL) is considered to be the normal level of TG. Higher levels of triglycerides may thicken the walls of the arteries, thereby increasing the risk of stroke and heart diseases.
Fish oil is a rich source of omega-3 fatty acids, a type of polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA), which is very important for your heart health. Fish oil can be derived from consuming oily fish like mackerel and salmon or through supplements. Some fish oil products are approved by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as prescription medications to lower triglycerides levels.
But, a recent study published in the journal PLOS Genetics claims that “taking fish oil only provides health benefits if you have the right genetic makeup.”
The study focussed on the effects of fish oil on triglyceride levels in the blood. The study also examined the levels of the other three blood lipids - high-density lipoprotein, low-density lipoprotein, and total cholesterol. All these types of fats (lipids) are biomarkers for heart diseases.
The study analyzed the data of 70,000 individuals taken from UK Biobank. The study cohort was divided into two - those who took fish oil supplements (around 11,000) and those who didn’t.
After running over 64 million tests, it was found that people on fish supplements who experienced a reduction in their triglyceride levels had a specific genotype of the GJB2 gene.
Individuals with the AG genotype who took fish oil decreased their triglycerides.
The study further revealed that individuals with the AA genotype who took fish oil had slightly elevated levels of triglycerides. The effects of fish oil on triglycerides in people with GG type could not be determined as present in the variant rs112803755. So, if you have your DNA raw data file with you, you can look up this rsID to find out your genotype!
Apart from fish oil, there are also other effective methods to reduce your triglyceride levels. Some of them include:
Limiting your sugar intake
Excess sugar in your diet is turned into triglycerides, elevated levels of which are not good for your heart health. According to a study, replacing your sugary beverages with water can decrease your triglyceride levels by as much as 29 mg/dL.
Adopting a low-carb diet
The extra carbs in your diet are also converted into and stored as triglycerides. Following a low-carb diet has proven to be much more effective than following a low-fat diet in terms of reducing triglyceride levels.
HDL cholesterol is a type of good cholesterol. Increasing HDL levels can both help reduce triglyceride levels as well as counteract the effects of high triglycerides. Jogging for even two hours per week can reduce the levels of triglycerides.
Limiting Alcohol Intake
Alcohol is high in sugar and calories. If they are not used up by the body, they are converted into triglycerides. According to studies, even moderate alcohol consumption can increase your triglyceride levels by as much as 53%. This applies to people with normal triglyceride levels as well!
Antioxidants are any compounds that help prevent cell damage in the body. One of the common reasons for cell damage is oxidation, where an atom or a molecule loses electrons.
While oxidation is useful for a few processes, excess oxidation leads to cell damage. The use of antioxidants is to regulate the level of oxidation in the body.
Depending on whether the antioxidants are soluble in water or fat (lipids), they are classified into two broad categories:
There are four basic levels of defense that all antioxidants have:
Inside the body, the following factors determine antioxidant absorption and utilization:
The effectiveness of antioxidants depends on the internal environment they survive in.
Generally, larger molecules of antioxidants are broken down by the gut bacteria to help them enter the cell membranes.
The liver produces a few very important antioxidants. The cell membranes absorb some, while a large part is excreted out through urine.
Have you heard of the famous egg or chicken question? The debate over whether the egg or the chicken came first to the world is never-ending. Until recently, scientists debated whether antioxidants were produced before or after the earth received oxygen through photosynthesis.
One may assume that microbes developed the ability to produce oxygen through photosynthesis first. This caused oxidative stress, and their bodies adapted themselves to produce antioxidants.
This is not the case, though!
According to this 2017 article, an anaerobic bacterium (oxygen-free bacterium) started producing an antioxidant called ergothioneine before it started the process of photosynthesis.
If not for neutralizing the effects of oxidation, what was the use of this antioxidant? Researchers are still trying to find out the answer to this question.
Free radicals are unstable molecules that contain an unpaired electron. Because of this, they are highly reactive. Free radicals start taking electrons from the cells in your body and damages them in this process.
Free radicals are found in the air you breathe in, in the water you drink, in the foods you eat, and even in certain medications!
Antioxidants help by sacrificing/giving up their own electrons to the free radicals, thereby neutralizing them. Instead of damaging your cells, the free radicals damage the antioxidants, keeping you safe.
When your body does not have antioxidants, your cells are damaged faster because of free radicals, and this causes a variety of physical issues, including:
Selenium is an important antioxidant that is needed for the healthy functioning of the body. Many enzymes in the body that fight free radicals are affected by how much selenium you get in your food.
Certain variations in the proteins GPX1 because of inadequate selenium intake are associated with increased cancer risk. In the rs1050450 SNP of the GPX1 gene, a minor allele ‘A’ increases your risk of developing cancer when your dietary selenium levels are low.
Lycopene is a type of carotenoid that gives the red color to fruits and vegetables. This is also a very important antioxidant.
The PON1 gene helps produce the PON1 enzyme to protect against the oxidation of Low-Density Lipoprotein (LDL). LDL oxidation results in risks of atherosclerosis, heart attacks, and strokes.
The Q192R (denoted by rs662) is a polymorphism in the PON1 gene. The presence of the TT allele can imply lower or decreased levels of PON1 enzyme activity. The higher the PON1 enzyme activity, the lower is the risk for heart disease.
Unhealthy food habits - Most of the antioxidants required by your body can be obtained by including various fruits, vegetables, and other plant-based ingredients regularly. If you depend on restaurant takeaways or packaged and frozen foods for your meals, you may be at a higher risk for developing antioxidants deficiency.
Harvesting and handling of fruits and vegetables - Certain methods of harvesting and handling fresh fruits and vegetables can cause a reduction in the antioxidant levels in these produces. Consuming these fruits and vegetables will not give you your recommended values of antioxidants.
Cooking methods - According to a study boiling and pressure cooking the vegetable bring down the antioxidant levels. Opt for gentler cooking methods like steaming and quick frying instead.
It is difficult to get an overdose of antioxidants with just food sources. However, it is possible to overdose when you are using antioxidant supplements. Here are some of the symptoms of excess antioxidant consumption:
A 2018 study analyzed the intake of 10 antioxidants. The antioxidants under consideration were beta carotene, alpha-carotene, beta-cryptoxanthin, lutein, lycopene, zeaxanthin, selenium, zinc, and vitamins C and E.
The study concluded that those deficient in these ten antioxidants had lowered anti-inflammatory activities and lowered HRQOL - Health-Related Quality Of Life. It includes factors needed for physical, mental, social, and emotional quality of life.
Oxidative stress, over time, can damage healthy cells in the body. This can result in increased risks of:
## Recommendations To Get The Right Amounts Of Antioxidants
**Include a variety of vegetables and fruits** - Vegetables and fruits are very rich sources of different antioxidants. One of the best ways to prevent antioxidant deficiency is to include colorful fruits and vegetables in your diet. Studies show that fresh fruits and vegetables bring down your risk for developing several diseases apart from keeping you fit.
**Prefer food-based antioxidants over supplements** - Unless you have been advised specifically, stay away from supplements and change your food habits to increase your antioxidant intake.
**Know how your genes affect you** - If you are genetically prone to requiring more antioxidants than normal individuals or at a higher risk for developing certain diseases because of antioxidant deficiency, plan your food choices right.
**Supplement antioxidants with caution** - While supplements can easily cause an overdose, supplements can also interact unpleasantly with certain medications you consume.
**Change your cooking methods** - Your cooking methods matter a lot. Choose healthier cooking options like broiling, steaming, and quick frying on a flat pan instead of boiling and pressure cooking.
1. Antioxidants are compounds that help prevent cell damage. There are 1000s of individual antioxidants available in nature.
2. While most antioxidants are obtained from food sources, few very vital ones are produced in the body.
3. Antioxidants bring down the risks of several diseases and keep you younger for a longer time.
4. Antioxidant overdose is rare and occurs only upon consuming supplements. Antioxidant deficiency can lead to a lowered Health-Related Quality Of Life (HRQOL).
5. Some people can be genetically inclined to absorb lesser quantities of antioxidants than others. Such individuals may need to compensate with supplements.
6. For healthier individuals, it is recommended to get the dose of antioxidants from food rather than from supplements.
Just like how water exerts pressure on the walls of the pipes when flowing, blood too exerts pressure on the surface blood vessels. The pressure exerted must be constant and of a particular value. A drop or hike in this pressure may likely be a warning of an abnormality.
When the pressure exerted by blood on the walls increases beyond a certain level, it is known as hypertension or high blood pressure. Hypertension is a pretty common health condition, with nearly half the American population expected to be diagnosed with it.
Most people don't experience any particular symptom until the condition becomes severe. That is why hypertension is rightly known as the "silent killer." Even when people do experience the symptoms, they are almost always associated with other issues.
Some of these warning signals for hypertension include:
- Severe headaches
- Nose bleed
- Difficulty in breathing
- Chest pain
- Extreme tiredness and fatigue
- Sweating and anxiety
The causes of hypertension or high blood pressure are still being studied. Some of the well-accepted and scientifically proven causes are smoking, obesity or being overweight, diabetes, having a sedentary lifestyle (one involving very minimal physical activities), and unhealthy eating habits.
Riboflavin, or vitamin B2, is a water-soluble vitamin. B vitamins are important for making sure the body's cells are functioning properly.
In addition to energy production, riboflavin also acts as an antioxidant and prevents damages by particles called free-radicals. It is involved in the production of folate (vitamin B9), which is crucial for red blood cell formation.
People need to consume vitamin B2 every day because the body can only store small amounts, and supplies go down rapidly.
A study published by the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition revealed that one in ten people could significantly lower their blood pressure and, in turn, their risk of heart disease and stroke by increasing their vitamin B2 intake.
Previous studies have found an association between the 677C-->T polymorphism in MTHFR and hypertension. This transition from C to T results in increased homocysteine levels. About 30 to 40 percent of the American population may have a mutation at gene position C677T.
The relationship between riboflavin and hypertension was examined because riboflavin is known to have an important modulating effect on elevated homocysteine.
A study demonstrated that increasing riboflavin status reduced systolic blood pressure by 13 mmHg and diastolic blood pressure by almost 8 mmHg, specifically in patients with the TT genotype.
Another study showed that riboflavin (1.6 mg per day) lowers homocysteine levels in healthy adults with the TT genotype but not in those with CT or CC genotypes.
rs1801133 is an SNP in the MTHFR gene that is commonly studied. It is also known as C677T, Ala222Val, and A222V.
People with the TT type have a lower blood pressure upon riboflavin/vitamin B2 administration than those with the CT or CC type.
People whose blood pressure responds better to vitamin B2 should consider increasing their riboflavin intake. Vitamin B2 supplements can be taken after consulting with a qualified medical practitioner.
Another way to get vitamin B2 is through dietary sources.
Fat has been classified as a taste as early as 330 BC by Aristotle. However, recent research suggests that fat is associated more with the smooth velvety texture (like in butter) but not with the sense of taste.
To be classified as a ‘ basic taste’ it must meet certain criteria. Some of these include:
5. Physiological effects once the taste receptors are activated: Upon consumption of fat, a commonly seen physiological effect is the increase in the triglyceride levels.
Fat is universally palatable because of its desirable properties in smell and texture.
Smell: There’s a reason why we can ‘taste’ the sizzling bacon even before we dig into it. Fats dissolve odor chemicals and concentrated flavors. Upon heating them, these are released, and when you smell the cooked food, the flavor molecules make their way to your nose and mouth.
Texture: Fatty foods have a special mouthfeel, a special texture. Emulsions made with fat are responsible for the creamy texture of many items like ice cream, peanut butter, and chocolate.
Our ancestors likely began acquiring a taste for fat 4 million years ago.
Out of the three macronutrients (carbohydrates, protein, and fats), fats provide the most energy per unit gram.
Proteins and carbohydrates (sugars) provide about 4 calories per gram, while lipids provide 9.4 calories per gram.
Fats also make us feel fuller for a longer time because it is absorbed slowly.
When we feel full, our brain releases ‘feel-good’ hormones that make us content and relaxed. So on hunting days, our ancestors gathered as many fatty foods as possible.
Those who consumed more fats than others survived better in times of food scarcity.
The ‘craving’ for fatty foods, the happiness we derive from it, and the fullness we experience are all a result of evolutionary adaptation.
A recent study from the Journal of Lipid Research claims that we carry a protein (receptor) in the tongue that is sensitive to fat. People who have more of this ‘fat-perceiving’ protein are more sensitive to fat, and vice versa.
The CD36 gene is located on chromosome 7. It encodes the Cluster of Differentiation protein, also called the fatty acid translocase protein. It is present on the surfaces of many cells in the body. People with certain forms of the CD36 gene have a lower concentration of the ‘fat-perceiving’ protein and may prefer and consume more high-fat foods than people with the other forms of this gene.
rs1527483 is associated with oral sensitivity to and preference for fat. Individuals who had the C/T or T/T genotypes tend to be less sensitive to fat in the diet than those with the C/C genotype. So, people with the TT type tend to prefer fatty foods more than the others.
According to a study, the G-allele of the rs1761667 SNP was associated with a 11-fold lower threshold for oleic acid than the A allele. Thus, people with the * GG type* had a higher sensitivity to oleic acid and thus consumed less fatty foods.
Fatty acid affects glucose levels by influencing the activity of enzymes like insulin. This can alter cell structure and gene expression. Studies show a positive association between trans fatty acids intake and risk of diabetes. Trans fat is found in animal products such as meat, whole milk, and milk products. Mounting evidence suggests that trans fats increase inflammatory cytokines that are related to the risk of diabetes.
The potential for a fatty meal to trigger heart attacks has been discussed in the medical literature for many years. According to a study, when people with heart disease consumed a high-fat meal, EKG changes were observed along with reports of chest pain in nearly half of the participants.
Heart attack, stroke, and pulmonary embolism are examples of diseases caused by blood clots. According to a study, after a meal rich in fatty acids, the volunteers displayed increased activation of blood clotting factors.
A study investigated the effects of fat-containing meals on plasma sex hormone levels in men. The results revealed reduced concentrations of both total and free testosterone hormone levels.
Studies now show that certain kinds of fats (saturated fats) taken in the right amounts can offer health benefits. Some high-fat foods that are filled with nutrients include:
Copper is an essential mineral for the body. Along with iron, it plays a vital role in the formation of Red Blood Cells (RBCs). It is a cofactor for several enzymes (cofactors are substances required for enzyme activation). Copper is a trace element - which means our body requires it only in small quantities. It is also crucial for organ functioning and a healthy metabolism. Meeting your copper requirements is important for the prevention of osteoporosis and cardiovascular diseases. The body cannot synthesize copper on its own - therefore, it must be consumed through diet or supplements.
Hepatocytes - cells of the liver - are the primary sites for copper metabolism.
When copper enters the body through dietary sources, it is first absorbed by the intestines.
It is then transported to the hepatocytes by a tube-like structure called the portal vein.
The copper then enters the hepatocytes - this is mediated by a protein called copper transporter (CTR1). After it enters the hepatocytes, either of the two things happens:
1. With the help of another transporter protein ATP7B, it reaches the ‘Golgi apparatus’ (packages protein to transport it to the destination) where it binds to another protein, ‘apoceruloplasmin.’ Once copper binds to this protein, it becomes ceruloplasmin. Subsequently, this ceruloplasmin exits the hepatocytes and is transported to other organs.
Sometimes, the copper is loosely bound to another protein called albumin and is circulated in the blood. This is called free serum copper.
Free serum copper + ceruloplasmin = Total serum copper
These three parameters are very important for blood diagnostics of copper metabolism.
2. If the body doesn’t require copper, it is transported to the bile ducts. From there, it is excreted into the bile.
If the ATP7B protein doesn’t function well, the copper gets accumulated in the cells leading to Wilson’s disease.
Copper is found in the cells of almost all organs. It plays an important role in blood vessel formation, maintenance of the nervous and the immune system.
Our body needs copper for several activities. These include:
1. Formation and functioning of RBCs
2. Immune functioning - by forming white blood cells
3. Fetal and postnatal brain growth and development
4. Collagen formation
5. Turning sugar into energy
6. Protection from cell damage
7. Absorption of iron
8. Maintenance of healthy skin and connective tissue
Copper deficiency is associated with changes in lipid levels. According to animal studies, low copper levels can lead to cardiac abnormalities.
Some researchers believe that people with heart failure can benefit from copper supplementation.
Some studies have shown that copper may help delay or prevent arthritis. That’s why wearing a copper bracelet as a remedy for arthritis is popular.
For adolescents and adults, the RDA is about 900 mcg per day.
The upper limit for adults aged 19 years and above is 10,000 mcg, or 10 milligrams (mg) a day. An intake above this level could be toxic.
The copper requirement changes with age, gender, and events like pregnancy.
The SELENBP1 is located on chromosome 1 and encodes selenium-binding protein.
Selenium is an essential mineral and is known for its anticarcinogenic properties, and a deficiency of it can result in neurologic diseases.
While selenium-binding protein has majorly been studied only for its tumor suppressant activities, a 2013 study found a significant association between this protein and erythrocyte (red blood cells) copper levels.
rs2769264 of SELENBP1 and Copper Deficiency Risk
rs2769264 is an SNP in the SELENBP1 gene. It is located on chromosome 1. This SNP has been associated with serum copper levels. According to a study, the presence of the G allele increases the copper levels by 0.25-0.38 units.
The SMIM1 gene is located on chromosome 1 and encodes Small Integral Member Protein 1. This protein plays a vital role in the formation of red blood cells.
rs1175550 of SMIM1 and Copper Deficiency Risk
rs117550 is an SNP in the SMIM1 gene. This SNP has been associated with serum copper levels. People who have an A allele in this SNP are at a greater risk for copper deficiency - the presence of A allele decreases copper levels by 0.14-0.26 units.
Infants fed on formula milk had lower copper levels than those on breast milk.
Consuming excess zinc can lead to an inefficient absorption of copper.
Gastrointestinal (GI) diseases
GI conditions like celiac diseases, short-gut syndrome, and irritable bowel syndrome can impair copper absorption.
Certain health conditions
Some conditions, such as central nervous system demyelination, polyneuropathy, myelopathy, and inflammation of the optic nerve, can increase the risk of copper deficiency.
Clinical symptoms of copper deficiency include:
- Premature hair greying
- Fatigue and weakness
- Sensitivity to cold
- Easy bruising
- Weak and brittle bones
- Learning and memory problems
- Pale skin
- Unexplained muscle soreness
- Loss of vision
Copper toxicity means you have more than 140 mcg/dL of copper in your blood. It can be caused due to excess copper in drinking water, eating meals cooked in uncoated copper cookware, and IUDs (Intrauterine devices like copper-T).
Some symptoms of copper poisoning include:
- Yellow skin (jaundice)
- Dark stools
- Abdominals cramps
- Mood changes
If left untreated, copper toxicity can lead to liver damage, heart failure, and in some cases, death.
Choline is one of the nutrients that has risen in ranks very quickly. The Institute of Medicine declares choline as an ‘essential nutrient’. There are many complex roles performed by this nutrient in the body.
While humans do produce choline in their bodies, the quantities are mostly insufficient. It is hence important to also obtain choline from the foods you eat. Choline acts like amino acids and facilitates various processes to function seamlessly.
It is not easy to decide on the global recommended values for choline intake. Certain genetic changes increase or decrease a person’s choline needs. We will discuss more of this in the genetic section.
Here are some of the important functions of choline in the body.
Helps in making fats that holds together cell membranes
Choline is useful in producing acetylcholine. This is a basic neurotransmitter (messengers that transmit signals from one cell to another)
Helps with DNA synthesis (the production/creation of DNA molecules)
In the middle of the 19th century, a large number of researchers were analyzing the chemical composition of tissues of living organisms.
During the 1850s and 1860s, several scientists were working on a new molecule at the same time in different parts of the world.
In 1850, Theodore Gobley, a pharmacist in Paris extracted this new molecule from the tissues of the brain and named it ‘Lecithin’. The word meant egg yolk in Greek.
In 1862, Adolph Strecker, a German scientist extracted lecithin from bile and then heated it. The result was a new chemical named Choline.
In 1865, another expert named Oscar Liebreich identified a new chemical found in the brain and named it neurine.
It was later proven that choline and neurine were the same substances.
It was only in the 1930s that scientists proved fatty liver could be cured with choline supplemented food.
In 1998, choline was added to the list of essential nutrients needed for human survival.
De Novo Synthesis - De Novo synthesis of choline is the production of choline inside the body. The phosphatidylethanolamine N-methyltransferase (PEMT) is an enzyme that helps convert certain kinds of lipids called phospholipids into phosphatidylcholine.
An enzyme called Phospholipase D converts phosphatidylcholine into phosphatidic acid. In this process, choline is released, which then enters circulation.
Absorption from food - Once you eat choline-rich foods, different forms of choline enter the small intestine and then choline gets stored in the liver. The liver then passes on the choline to the bloodstream and this reaches all the cell membranes.
While this would be enough to match bare requirements, you will need to match up with the right foods to get your complete recommended levels of choline.
The PEMT gene is responsible for making phosphatidylcholine in the body. Phosphatidylcholine is eventually converted into choline. Extreme cases of choline deficiency can lead to liver damage. For some individuals, variations in the PEMT gene can result in an increased risk of liver damage, obesity, and abdominal fat build-up.
The C allele of the rs12325817 SNP causes increased risk of liver problems when you consume inadequate amounts of choline.
The MTHFD1 gene helps in activating folic acid into forms usable by the body. Certain variations in the MTHFD1 gene affects the choline levels in the body too.
The A allele of the rs2236335 SNP causes folate deficiencies. When your choline intake is also low, you can develop serious signs of choline deficiency like fatty liver. The G allele however does not cause folate deficiencies. The body is able to handle a low-choline diet better without resulting in extreme symptoms.
Pregnancy and lactation - About 95% of pregnant and lactating women consume less choline than what’s needed. Women who do not consume folic acid supplements during pregnancy are at a greater risk for choline deficiency. Talk to your gynecologist to know if you should change your diet pattern during pregnancy.
Menopause - Estrogen is an important hormone that helps produce choline internally in the body. During menopause, estrogen levels come down and so do choline levels.
Alcoholics - Alcoholics have higher needs for choline. When they do not have a healthy diet regime, the chances of them developing choline deficiency is very high.
Athletes and high endurance trainers - If you are physically very active, regular workouts and training sessions can cause a fall in the choline levels. Supplements can help stabilize the levels
Since choline is also produced internally in the body, choline deficiency is rare. However, it does happen in the below categories of individuals.
- Pregnant women
- People with genetic polymorphisms that prevent absorption of choline
- Individuals who are intravenously fed
People with choline deficiency develop Nonalcoholic Fatty Liver Disease (NAFLD). This condition usually resolves when the person is supplemented with choline. Here are some of the conditions associated with NAFLD.
- Insulin resistance
- Increased risks of liver damage, liver cancer and liver cirrhosis
Calcium is the most abundant material in the body. The body stores over 99% of the calcium in bones and teeth. The rest is found in nerve cells, body tissues, blood, and other body fluids. The body uses bones as a reservoir for (and sometimes source of) calcium. A proper level of calcium in the body over a lifetime can help prevent osteoporosis.
When you don’t get enough calcium, you also increase your risk of developing other conditions like:
- Calcium deficiency disease (hypocalcemia)
Other than its vital role in the formation and strengthening of bones and teeth, calcium also helps with the following:
- Muscle contractions
- Normal enzyme functioning
- Clotting blood
- Sending and receiving nerve signals
- Squeezing and relaxing muscles
- Releasing hormones and other chemicals
- Maintaining a normal heart rhythm
The present nutritional requirements of calcium is a result of a 200 million year evolution. The evidence indicates that this evolution occurred in a high-calcium nutritional environment.
Humans who lived during the Stone Age period consumed a lot more calcium (1500mg/day or even more) than we do today. The higher calcium consumption can be attributed to the requirement for higher physical exertion. Examination of bony remains from that period revealed a higher bone mass and lesser age-related bone loss.
While the Americans today get the majority of calcium through dairy foods, the stone age people had to rely on plant sources as domestication hadn’t begun by then. Their diet was also high in protein, fiber, and other micronutrients, and at the same time, low in sodium and fats. Archaeological evidence suggests that the Stone Age diet helped prevent diseases like heart disease, stroke, osteoporosis, and other chronic diseases.
Evolution has programmed our genes to adapt to a certain kind of nutritional pattern- which has many positive implications on our health. Changing our diet to match this ‘designated’ nutritional pattern can be a big challenge but can help achieve major improvements in our health.
The RDA of calcium for adults 19-50 years of age is 1000 mg for both men and women. Women who are 51 and older (post-menopausal) and men who are 71 and older require about 1200 mg of calcium.
However, the WHO states that adults require only 500 mg of calcium per day.
The Calcium sensing receptor (CASR) gene encodes a calcium-sensing receptor, which binds to calcium present in the blood. The [CASR protein}(https://medlineplus.gov/genetics/gene/casr/) is present on the cells of the parathyroid glands and is associated with the secretion of the parathyroid hormone. This hormone transfers calcium from the bone into the blood, with bones acting as storage centers for calcium.
When calcium levels are high, the levels of parathyroid hormone are low. This facilitates increased binding of calcium to CASR receptors in the kidney. This ultimately leads to more removal of calcium via kidneys.
rs1801725 of CASR Gene And Calcium Deficiency Risk
rs1801725 is an SNP in the CASR gene associated with serum calcium levels. This SNP is also called A986S. It contributes to 1.26% of the variance in serum calcium levels. The T allele of rs1801725 was associated with higher serum calcium.
rs17251221 of CASR Gene And Calcium Deficiency Risk
Previous studies have indicated that rs17251221 in the CASR gene is associated with total serum calcium levels. People with the GG + GA genotypes have higher calcium levels than those with the AA genotype.
GATA3, or GATA binding protein 3, is a gene that is located on chromosome 10 and belongs to the GATA family of transcription factors.
Defects in this gene have been associated with hypoparathyroidism.
Hypothyroidism causes a reduction in the calcium levels in the blood, i.e., hypocalcemia.
rs10491003 of GATA3 Gene And Calcium Deficiency Risk
rs10491003 is an SNP in the GATA3 gene. It is implicated in disorders of calcium imbalance. The T allele has been associated with a 0.027 unit increase in calcium levels.
The CYP24A1 gene is located on chromosome 20 and encodes the enzyme 24-hydroxylase.
This enzyme is responsible for controlling the amount of active vitamin D available in the body.
Vitamin D is absolutely essential for the proper absorption of calcium from the intestines and is also involved in various processes required for bone and tooth formation.
Many mutations in this gene are found to be associated with idiopathic infantile hypercalcemia 1.
rs1570669 of CYP24A1 Gene And Calcium Deficiency Risk
rs1570669 is an SNP in the CYP24A1 gene. The A allele in this SNP is associated with a 0.012-0.024 decrease in the serum calcium levels. People with the AA genotype are at a higher risk for calcium deficiency.
Other genes like CARS, DGKD, DGKH, GGCKR, TTC39B, and WDR81 also influence calcium levels in the body.
Overactivation of parathyroid hormone: Also called hyperparathyroidism, this condition results in excess parathyroid hormone. This results in a calcium imbalance.
Medications: Diuretics release a lot of water from the body, which results in the underexcretion of calcium. Lithium causes excess secretion of the parathyroid hormone.
Lung diseases: Certain lung diseases like sarcoidosis result in high vitamin levels, which increases the level of calcium.
Cancer: Some cancers, especially lung, blood, and breast, increases your risk for calcium buildup.
Dehydration: This, coupled with poor kidney function, can increase your calcium levels.
Also called hypocalcemia, calcium deficiency is a condition where there are low calcium levels in the body. Women are more prone to calcium deficiency, especially those who are going through menopause. This is because of the decrease in the female hormone estrogen, which plays a vital role in calcium metabolism.
Some symptoms of hypocalcemia include:
-Muscle problems such as aches, spasms, cramps
-Increased numbness and tingling in the arms, legs, hands, and feet
-Severe fatigue, lack of energy
-Weak and brittle nails
-Osteoporosis, that increases the chances of breaking or brittle bones
-Dental problems like poor oral health, week roots of teeth, brittle teeth, gum irritation, increased cavities
Hypercalcemia/excess calcium describes a condition where there are high concentrations of calcium in the blood. This can be harmful to your bones and organs, especially to your kidneys.
The parathyroid hormone controls the levels of calcium in the body. Hypercalcemia is usually the effect of overactive parathyroid glands that result in an increase in the blood calcium levels.
Hypercalcemia affects different organs differently:
Kidneys: Kidneys need to overwork to filter all the extra calcium. This causes increased thirst and frequent urination
Bones: The calcium in the bone is leached out into the blood - thus, it gets weakened, which results in bone pain
Abdomen: Symptoms related to the abdomen include nausea, constipation, vomiting, and abdominal pain
Heart: High calcium levels can result in abnormal heart rhythms
Muscles: Hypercalcaemia can cause muscle weakness and spasms
Brain: Symptoms like lethargy, confusion, fatigue, and even depression
One of the best ways to ensure healthy and optimum calcium levels is by sufficient dietary intake of the mineral.
Fiber is a type of carbohydrate also called roughage. This nutrient is available in many plant-based foods. Though fiber is a type of carbohydrate, it cannot be broken down into sugars in the body. There are two common types of dietary fibers.
Soluble fiber - This is fiber that is easily dissolved in the body. It turns into a gel-like substance in the body and leaves the person feeling full for a longer time.
Insoluble fiber - This is fiber that does not dissolve in the body. It moves through the digestive system as such and can prevent problems like constipation.
The soluble and insoluble fibers are further classified into different types depending on their sources.
Both these types of fibers keep you healthy.
In recent times, fibers have become even more important for their ability to help with weight loss.
Soluble fiber is not processed in the small intestine. In the stomach, it absorbs water and turns into a gel. This moves through the small intestine and reaches the large intestine. Here, soluble fibers are acted upon by the bacteria present in the large intestine.
This process is called fermentation. Fermentation results in certain nutrients that are beneficial to your body.
The remaining soluble fiber helps give body (volume) to your stool. The water content in the soluble fiber is also retained and passed out with your stools.
The insoluble fibers meanwhile pass through the small intestine and the large intestine unchanged. Except for a few types, the insoluble fibers are not fermented. Bigger molecules of insoluble fibers trigger the production of mucus in the large intestine. These provide volume to your stool and make passing stools easier.
Smaller molecules of insoluble fibers can be constipating.
While still not a macronutrient, dietary fiber is gaining status as a very important nutrient.
Many studies conclude that a fiber-rich diet helps with weight loss. Here are the reasons why.
- Fiber-rich food keeps you full for a longer time and brings down appetite. This can help with weight loss over time
- Fiber prevents fluctuations in blood sugar levels. When sugar levels don’t go up and down drastically, your body goes through lesser sugar cravings and hunger.
- Fiber keeps the gut healthy and clean. This regulates digestion.
Even though fiber passes through the body mostly unchanged, there are few places where your body smartly breaks it down into portions that it can easily handle.
The minute you eat fiber-rich food, your teeth and jaw work to break down the food into smaller portions. This action changes the physical appearance and structure of the fiber. After it reaches the stomach, the churning action of the stomach muscles also helps in further altering its physical structure.
The fiber content is further broken into smaller parts. From here until fiber reaches the large intestine, it mostly remains the same.
Fiber keeps your gut healthy by flushing out excess LDL cholesterol and other unwanted deposits in the digestive tract as it travels down.
The story of fiber goes back to the times of ancient Greece. Greeks consumed wheat bran regularly as they thought it helped prevent constipation. They did not know why wheat bran helped though.
It was only in the 19th century that people started looking more intently into fiber and its benefits. The benefits of fiber in curing constipation was introduced in America by J.H Kellogg, a doctor, who later created the iconic Kellogg cereal brand.
Kellogg initially pointed to the lack of fiber as a reason for two common conditions prevalent then - constipation and masturbation. He sincerely believed that including a lot of fiber in food will ‘treat’ these conditions.
Kellogg and his family came up with a kind of granola that was full of fiber content. In 1953, a British physician first coined the term ‘dietary fiber’.
The early 1900s saw a lot of demand for these fiber-rich breakfast options and slowly, foods with higher fiber content became popular choices in families with healthy food choices.
As nutritionists and doctors started understanding what fiber did to the body, the link between high fiber and weight loss became a well-researched topic.
Total dietary fiber intake should be 25 to 30 grams a day from food, not supplements.
Did you know that the average American gets only about 15 grams of fiber a day?
The FTO gene is associated with obesity, type II diabetes, and body-mass index. A particular variant of the FTO gene seems to have a relationship between lower waist circumference and a high-fiber diet.
A allele - Individuals are likely to lose more weight upon fiber intake. Their waist circumference also reduces.
T allele - Individuals are likely to lose moderate to less weight upon fiber intake with a lesser reduction in waist circumference.
The TCF7L2 gene produces the TCF7L2 protein. A variation in this gene plays an important role in increasing/decreasing the risk of type II diabetes in relation to fiber intake. Type II diabetes and sharp sugar highs and dips in the body are directly related to weight gain.
There are three genotypes of this SNP that relate fiber intake to risk of diabetes and weight loss. Individuals with the CC and CT genotype have lesser risk of developing type II diabetes upon fiber intake.
These individuals also lose more weight when they include fiber-rich foods. Those with the TT genotype are not protected against diabetes type II because of a high fiber diet and also lose only moderate to less weight upon fiber intake.
Feeling of fullness - Fiber-rich food is often bulky and fills you up well. It takes a long time for fiber to pass through the digestive tract too. Because of these reasons, fiber gives you a sense of being full for a longer time. This prevents re-snacking in between meals and can help with weight loss.
Low calories - Many fiber-rich foods are low in calories. Their energy density is lesser than foods rich in simpler carbohydrates. This means that even if you eat your normal quantity, you are getting lesser kilojoules/gram of the food. Choosing a fiber-rich meal is hence a perfect way to bring down the caloric intake and lose weight.
Lowered risk of sugar dips - When you have a normal carbohydrate-rich meal, carbs are quickly broken down into sugars and are absorbed right away. This causes a sharp increase in blood sugar levels and once the sugars are absorbed, a sharp dip too. Sugar dip can make you crave food again, especially sugary snacks and desserts. Fiber prevents the sharp sugar dips from happening and maintains your sugar levels stable. You will hence snack less and lose weight faster.
While many people are only fiber deficient, it is possible to get an overdose of fiber when you do not plan your diet right.
When you consume more than 70 grams of fiber a day, these could be some of the side effects noted.
When you consistently get lesser fiber than what’s recommended, here are some of the symptoms to look out for:
Switch over from simple carbohydrates to wholemeal or multi grains. Replacing your loaf of white bread with wheat bread or your regular pasta with a multigrain pasta will automatically increase your fiber intake.
Choose a healthy cereal-based breakfast. Make it a point to eat a bowl of barley, oats, wheat, or a mixed cereal meal the first thing in the morning to give you a fiber-kick.
Make sure you include at least 2-3 portions of fruits and vegetables a day. Try eating them with their skin to improve their fiber value.
Snack on nuts and seeds. These are tastier and also fiber-rich.
Plan your meals right. Consciously make sure you pick fresher produce to cook with. Fibrous fruits and vegetables along with a couple of portions of grains, lentils, and legumes will satisfy your body’s fiber needs easily. With the right fiber intake and moderate physical activity, you will lose weight consistently.
Get your genetic testing done. If your genes don’t help you lose weight upon fiber intake, you might have to take extra efforts in working out and restricting calories to bring down body weight.
Iron is an essential mineral that is a major component of hemoglobin - a protein in blood that transports oxygen in the body. It also binds to myoglobin, a protein present in muscle tissues, and provides oxygen.
This mineral is naturally present in many foods as well as added to some food products - iron-fortified foods. It is also available as a dietary supplement.
Dietary iron has two main forms: heme and nonheme. Heme iron (present as hemoglobin/myoglobin) is found only in animal flesh like meat, poultry, and seafood. Non-heme iron is found in plant foods like whole grains, nuts, seeds, legumes, and leafy greens. Heme iron is more well-absorbed than non-heme iron.
Studies suggest that an estimated 2 billion in the population suffer from the most common outcome of iron deficiency - Iron Deficiency Anemia (IDA).
Human skeletal remains from prehistoric times show small holes in the outer layers of the skull. This condition, called Porotic Hyperostosis (PH), was put forth by Stuart-MacAdam in 1992, who said that these findings in the remains of prehistoric times became more evident as mankind moved from being hunters to an agricultural society. One of the prominent crops that he holds responsible for iron deficiency in prehistoric humans is maize, as it is a poor source of absorbable iron. It has also been suggested that iron-deficiency causing PH usually occurs in infancy.
Early in the 17th century, Chalybeate water (named after the Chalybes, skilled ironworkers in Roman Asia Minor) was identified. These waters were found to be rich in salts of iron. It has been suggested that the chalybeate waters have contributed to the healing properties since prehistoric times and were considered to be beneficial to cure conditions like anemia. Many British spa towns are famous for their chalybeate springs. Despite the importance of chalybeate waters for healing, the role of iron in hemoglobin formation and red cell function took centuries to be recognized.
Identifying iron deficiency
It was only in 1902 Bunge, a professor of physiology in Basle, identified the possibility of iron-deficiency and admitted that 'the habitual consumption of foods poor in iron may lead to anemia.' However, he contradicted this by stating that ‘it is difﬁcult to imagine a diet that would not contain the small amounts of the metal required daily.’
He also conducted studies to show that human breast milk was very low on iron but recognized that foods like spinach, egg yolk, lentils, beef, and apples were iron-rich. He said that newborn infants had much higher concentrations of iron in their liver and kidneys compared to older infants, children, or adults.
Bunge considered iron deficiency ‘unimaginable’; despite that, he also stated that iron supply through just food sources is not sufficient to treat iron deficiency.
The recommended amount of dietary iron intake is slightly higher for adult women than men. For men over 18 years, the RDA is 8.7mg a day, while it is 14.8mg a day for women aged 19 to 50. Women need more iron than men to make up for the amount of iron they lose in their menstrual period.
The RDA for vegetarians is 1.8 times higher than for people who eat meat - this is because the iron from animal sources is more easily absorbed than iron from plant sources.
TMPRSS6 gene is associated with the synthesis of a protein TransMembrane PRotease Serine 6 (also known as matriptase-2). This protein regulates the levels of another protein, hepcidin, which controls the iron balance in the body.
Whenever there are low iron levels in the body, hepcidin production is reduced, allowing more amounts of iron to be absorbed from the diet.
There are two Single Nucleotide Polymorphisms (SNPs) in this gene, rs855791 and rs4820268 that influence the serum iron levels.
In a study conducted on children aged 6-17 months, G allele in rs4820268 was identified as the “Iron-Lowering Allele” (ILA) - it led to the overexpression of hepcidin, thereby reducing the serum iron levels.
In a study conducted on 2100 elderly women, people with the T allele in rs855791 had lower serum iron and hemoglobin levels.
Another study on 14,100 Danish men also revealed the T allele to be associated with lower iron levels in the body.
Some groups of people are at an increased risk for iron deficiency:
1. Pregnant women: Iron needs increase during pregnancy to meet the needs of the growing fetus and placenta.
2. People with cancer: Many cancers like colon cancer are associated with chronic blood loss - so they may require more iron. Sometimes the requirements may increase due to the risk of chemotherapy-induced anemia.
3. People who donate blood frequently: According to a study, 25-35% of frequent blood donors develop iron deficiency.
4. People with heart failure: Poor nutrition, absorption, and use of aspirin or oral anticoagulants are the common causes of iron deficiency in people with heart failure.
5. Infants and children: Iron deficiency is more commonly seen in preterm births or infants with low birth weight.
Even full-term infants can develop an iron deficiency if they do not obtain enough iron from solid foods.
The Tolerable Upper Limit - TUL (highest level of daily intake that is likely to pose no adverse health effects) for iron in healthy adults over 19 years of age is 45 mg.
Acute intakes of more than 20 mg/kg iron from supplements can lead to iron toxicity. It can also reduce zinc absorption and plasma zinc concentrations.
Some signs of excess iron consumption include:
- Gastric upset
- Abdominal pain
Iron is an essential nutrient, which means that you need to get your iron from food sources/supplements.
There are very few macronutrients discussed as extensively as protein. Protein is an essential nutrient that helps support all aspects of the human body. Proteins (Amino acids) are the building blocks of the human body. Proteins are made of chains of amino acids linked by a chemical bond. Amino acids are organic molecules that majorly contain carbon, oxygen, hydrogen, and nitrogen. In nature, there are about 500+ amino acids available. Out of these, nine are considered essential amino acids that the human body cannot produce. These have to be obtained from the foods you eat.
Proteins are abundantly found in all plant and animal sources. About 70% of protein intake in North America is through animal-derived foods. Over the world, about 60% of protein sources are plant-based foods.
Once you eat protein-rich foods, proteins reach your stomach. The hydrochloric acid in the stomach along with an enzyme called proteases help in breaking down proteins into smaller molecules. The amino acid sequence in proteins is connected together by peptides. Proteases help break these peptides. The smaller chains of amino acids now move to your small intestine. Here, enzymes like trypsin, carboxypeptidase, and chymotrypsin help break down the smaller chains into individual amino acids. The broken down amino acids are absorbed in the small intestine and reach the bloodstream. They are taken from here to all the cells in the body. When you consume a variety of protein-rich foods throughout the day, your body can collect the essential ones from different sources and get what’s needed for its survival.
Proteins are abundantly needed and present in the body. It is essential for many vital processes including
Chemical reactions - As enzymes, proteins carry out thousands of chemical reactions in the body. Without enzymes, the body will come to a standstill.
Transmitting signals - Proteins act as messengers and help transmit signals and information between different cells, tissues, and organs. Proteins also help transport smaller molecules between different cells.
Providing structure - Proteins support the healthy growth of cells and give structure to the muscles and tissues. Proteins are also the basic building blocks of all the organs in the body.
Building immunity - Antibodies are types of proteins produced in the immune system. These help fight against harmful microorganisms attacking the body.
One of the most discussed functions of proteins is aiding weight loss. There are several protein-based diet plans on the internet that promise quick and rapid weight loss with minimal effort.
Do all these diet plans work? No. However, proteins help people lose weight when consumed the right way. Proteins help in increasing metabolism and reducing appetite. Both factors are beneficial to lose weight healthily. Particular gene types also encourage weight loss in certain individuals when they consume a protein-rich diet.
Proteins are one of the most essential nutrients needed. There are so many functions that depend on protein sources in the body.
In simple terms, when you do not consume proteins, you cannot survive.
Protein turnover is a wonderful way your body keeps maintaining the levels of essential proteins in the body.
When you are asleep, your body does not get its source of proteins from food for 6-8 hours at a stretch. In this time, your body breaks down its own stored proteins and obtains essential amino acids. These stored proteins come from both skeletal muscles and your skin.
When you fast for days together, the body starts using up proteins from your muscles too. Every day that you fast, you will lose 32 grams of muscle because of protein turnover.
Did you know that the first living molecule that originated on earth was a kind of protein?
How fascinating is that!
That’s how important proteins are for living organisms.
Protein was first discovered by Gerhardus Johannes Mulder in the year 1837. He initially assumed that proteins were made of just one type of large molecule.
A Swedish chemist named Jöns Jacob Berzelius is given credit for naming protein in 1838. Protein means ‘primary’ in Greek.
The main problem with studying proteins was the difficulty in purifying them in large quantities. The only types of proteins that were studied extensively were those that were easily available from egg whites, blood collected from slaughterhouses, and digestive enzymes.
In 1949, insulin was the first protein for which the amino acid sequencing was done successfully. It was then that scientists understood proteins contained linear polymers of amino acids.
Since then, protein has been extensively researched and analyzed and its importance has only grown.
The recommended intake of proteins is set as 0.36 grams of proteins per pound of body weight. In case you are an active person or an athlete, you may need up to 0.60 grams of proteins per pound to match up your physical demand.
This is the minimum recommendation to prevent a person from getting protein deficient.
This gene produces a protein that plays an important role in several functions in the body. Changes in the TCF7L2 gene affect the relationship between a high-protein diet and weight loss.
rs7903146 and rs10885406 of TCF7L2 Gene and Weight Loss Tendency On Protein Intake
In both the rs7903146 and rs10885406 SNPs, the C and A alleles respectively help individuals get the most out of a high-protein diet. Individuals with these alleles do not gain weight upon protein intake.
The TFAP2B gene helps produce the AP-2B transcription factor. This controls the activities of other genes around and a particular SNP is known to affect the relationship between weight gain and protein intake.
rs987237 of TFAP2B Gene and Weight Loss Tendency On Protein Intake
The A allele of this SNP has very low risks of obesity. However, the G allele individuals are at high risk for obesity. In both variants, a high protein diet will help maintain existing weight and prevent further weight gain.
Higher caloric intake - Saturated fats have 9 calories per gram of fat. In comparison to fats, carbohydrates and proteins have about 4-5 calories per gram only. Because of this, it is easier to consume more calories with saturated fat intake, which can lead to weight gain.
Fat storage - When you consume more fat than what’s needed for the body, excess fat is stored in the adipose tissues. When you consume excess saturated fats, your adipose tissue grows and you start putting on weight.
Taste - Fatty foods are generally tastier. Think of buttery bacon, fried chicken, sweet pastries, or a big slice of cheesy pizza. They get addictive with time and this is another non-genetic factor that causes gradual weight gain.
Food combinations - Most packaged foods/ takeaways/ restaurant meals are a mix of carbohydrates and saturated fats. While carbohydrates give the body the needed energy, the excess fat you consume is mostly not used. This gets stored in the body, leading to weight gain.
While a high-protein diet will help with weight loss, when you start consuming excess proteins just to lose weight, experts say this could backfire.
Excess proteins in the body are stored as fat and this will result in weight gain with time. This is especially true when you consume excess calories on a high-protein diet.
Here are other possible side-effects of excess protein consumption:
- Gastrointestinal problems like indigestion and diarrhea
- Bad breath
- Kidney damage in people with pre-existing kidney conditions
- Choosing excess red meats as protein sources can increase the risks of heart diseases
- Red-meat based high-protein diet increases the risk of cancers