Is Our Body Pre-Programmed To Make Use Of Supplements?

Is Our Body Pre-Programmed To Make Use Of Supplements?

As our scientific knowledge improves and we learn more about human physiology, we are starting to see a clearer picture of how our bodies work and what our bodies need to work optimally. However, at this point in time we truly do not know whether most supplements are effective. However, there are a few things we do know:

Our genes influence our ability to use nutrients

Research has revolutionized science and medicine and has brought a whole host of processes to light that give us greater insight into the human body and what makes it work or not. We can now see how different genes affect different aspects of our functioning. Furthermore, we can look at certain genetic traits and note how they affect our ability to utilize nutrients. One important example is the effect our genes have on our ability to use nutrients and possibly dietary supplements. For example, some people have some genes that do not work properly, which influences how effectively nutrients can be used by their bodies. One such gene that we now know more about is called the methylenetetrahydrofolate reductase gene (MTHFR) and the presence of an ineffective MTHFR gene means that folate, (vitamin B9), vitamin B6 and vitamin B12 synthesis will be compromised. Basically, this means that the breakdown of these nutrients will be compromised. In the presence of this genetic polymorphism, or variant, vitamin B9 (folic acid) cannot be broken down effectively into methionine, an important amino acid which facilities protein synthesis and antioxidant utilization. We now know that 10-20% of the worldwide population may possess this gene variant, although these percentages do vary according to ethnicity and geographical location. What does this mean? If you have this gene variant, you need to take an activated form of these three nutrients, so that they can be used for processes required in your body and brain (see the Infographic below.) 

In ages past it was thought that anyone could follow a specific diet or take supplements with exactly the same outcome. By analyzing our genetic code, we can see this may not be the case. Research suggests that it is still best if you get your nutrients the natural way, through food, and with meal delivery services, this is easier to do if you are time-poor. However, it may be that some of us are simply genetically predisposed to respond better to nutrients, and possibly supplements. Our genes may influence our body in the following ways:

  • How we digest and absorb our food, which then lays the foundation for how many nutrients we have available to use
  • How we react to food and possibly supplements, such as food intolerances to specific groups of foods or food allergies
  • How many nutrients we need, which also depends on age, activity level, stress levels and even gender
  • How our brain is ageing
  • How we respond to exercise
  • How well our metabolism works, which influences how well we utilize nutrients, how we store energy (fat) and how we burn energy

Should we take supplements or not?

We are all unique, not only because we have a unique genetic code, but also because we choose to live our lives differently. However, some research has suggested that we can influence our genes dramatically by our choice of lifestyle, with up to 70% of the way we age being determined by our lifestyle choices versus our genes. Our ongoing exploration of our genetic code will continue to reveal more about how we can influence our genes. Although we do not yet know all there is to know about dietary supplements, their effectiveness or how our genes interact with them, we do know that different people may benefit in different ways from some forms of dietary supplementation. 

If you feel that you need to take a supplement, it is always advisable to get a full blood workout from your doctor to ascertain what your nutrient status is. If possible, get a gene test to assess whether you have a variant on the MTHFR gene. Nutrients that have been assessed for effectiveness are Vitamin D, as well as B12 and omega 3, and folate for pregnant women, but again, a gene variant on the MTHFR gene may impact which supplement is best consumed in this case. Some research has suggested that a broad spectrum B vitamin may be useful for some people.

Ultimately, we aim to consume a whole food, nutrient dense diet, which will provide a full spectrum of minerals and minerals. Supplements are no substitute for living a healthy lifestyle, which includes a healthy diet.

The Infographic below provides some interesting facts and figures about vitamins and what they do in your body:      

References

Ames BN, Elson-Schwab I, Silver EA. High-dose vitamin therapy stimulates variant enzymes with decreased coenzyme binding affinity (increased K(m)): relevance to genetic disease and polymorphisms. Am J Clin Nutr. 2002;75(4):616-58.

Gilbody S, Lewis S, Lightfoot T. Methylenetetrahydrofolate reductase (MTHFR) genetic polymorphisms and psychiatric disorders: a HuGE review. Am J Epidemiol. 2007;165(1):1-13.

Mitchell ES, Conus N, Kaput J. B vitamin polymorphisms and behavior: Evidence of associations with neurodevelopment, depression, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and cognitive decline. Neurosci Biobehav Rev. 2014;47:307-20.

Wilcken B, Bamforth F, Li Z, Zhu H, Ritvanen A, Renlund M, et al. Geographical and ethnic variation of the 677C>T allele of 5,10 methylenetetrahydrofolate reductase (MTHFR): findings from over 7000 newborns from 16 areas worldwide. J Med Genet. 2003;40(8):619-25.

Passarino G, De Rango F, Montesanto A. Human longevity: Genetics or Lifestyle? It takes two to tango. Immun Ageing. 2016;13:12.

Dato S, Rose G, Crocco P, Monti D, Garagnani P, Franceschi C, et al. The genetics of human longevity: an intricacy of genes, environment, culture and microbiome. Mech Ageing Dev. 2017 Jul;165(Pt B):147-55.

National Institutes of Health: Office of Dietary Supplements. Dietary Supplement Fact Sheets. USA: National Institutes of Health; 2017 [31 April 2018]. Available from: https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/list-all/