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Is obesity risk from eating fried foods genetic?

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Risk of obesity from regular consumption of fried foods may depend on genetic makeup, says a recent study, "Fried food consumption, genetic risk, and body mass index: gene-diet interaction analysis in three U.S. cohort studies," published online March 18, 2014 in the British Medical Journal. You can bring home the bacon, fry it up in a pan, but only his genes make him a fat man. Well, maybe.

People with a genetic predisposition to obesity are at a higher risk of obesity and related chronic diseases from eating fried foods than those with a lower genetic risk, according to a new study from researchers from Harvard School of Public Health, Brigham and Women's Hospital, and Harvard Medical School. It is the first study to show that the adverse effects of fried foods may vary depending on the genetic makeup of the individual.

"Our study shows that a higher genetic risk of obesity may amplify the adverse effects of fried food consumption on body weight, and high intakes of fried food may also exacerbate the deleterious genetic effects," said Lu Qi, according to the March 18, 2014 news release, "Risk of obesity from regular consumption of fried foods may depend on genetic makeup." Qi is the lead author and assistant professor in the Department of Nutrition at HSPH and Brigham and Women's Hospital and Harvard Medical School.

Researchers analyzed data from 9,623 women in the Nurses' Health Study, 6,379 men in the Health Professionals Follow-up Study, and 21,426 women in the Women's Genome Health Study. Participants filled out food frequency questionnaires that asked how often they ate fried foods both at home and away from home. Body mass index (BMI) and lifestyle factors, such as physical activity, were also assessed. Genetic risk scores were calculated based on genetic variants associated with BMI.

The results showed that regular consumption of fried foods was associated with higher BMI, after taking into account other dietary and lifestyle factors

In addition, the study showed that the association between overconsumption of fried foods and obesity was particularly pronounced among people with a greater genetic predisposition to obesity. On the other hand, the genetic effect on BMI among those who ate fried foods more than four times a week was about twice as large compared with those who ate them less than once a week.

"Our findings indicate that genetic risk of obesity could be mitigated by simply changing an eating habit," said Frank Hu, according to the news release. Hu is the co-author and professor of nutrition and epidemiology at the Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH). "From a public health point of view, everyone should be encouraged to adopt healthy eating habits, not just those who are genetically susceptible."

Authors of the study are, Qibin Qi, Audrey Y. Chu, Jae H. Kang, Jinyan Huang, Lynda M. Rose, Majken K. Jensen, Liming Liang, Gary C. Curhan, Louis R. Pasquale, Janey L. Wiggs, Immaculata De Vivo, Andrew T. Chan, Hyon K. Choi, Rulla M. Tamimi, Paul M. Ridker, David J. Hunter, Walter C. Willett, Eric B. Rimm, Daniel I. Chasman, Frank B. Hu, and Lu Qi,

Funders supporting the study by grants DK091718, HL071981, HL073168, CA87969, CA49449, CA055075, HL34594, HL088521, U01HG004399, DK080140, P30DK46200, U01CA137088, U54CA155626, DK58845, DK098311, U01HG004728, EY015473, CA134958, DK70756 and DK46200 are from the National Institutes of Health, with additional support for genotyping from Merck Research Laboratories. You may wish to visit the Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH) website for the latest news, press releases and multimedia offerings.

Metabolic and genetic nutrition

Are seniors, young parents, and school-age children interested in the latest news on metabolic and genetic nutrition, for example what's happening in the field of DNA testing for health, nutritional genomics, and its possible relationship to ancestry, exercise, or diets? You also may be interested in nutrition and how nutrition may influence health for various family members and age groups also may be interested in checking out the January 11, 2014 Scientific American article by Dina Fine Maron, "After 23andMe, Another Personal Genetics Firm Is Charged with False Advertising."

The Federal Trade Commission says GeneLink, which served 30,000 customers, made claims not based on science and failed to protect consumer information. Tailor what you eat to your DNA. Parents generally would like to have a consumer’s guide to nutritional genomics, an accurate guide to how your particular genes and ancestry respond to food—selected foods tailored or prescribed to nourish your individual genetic profile known as your genetic expression. Consumer involvement in nutritional genomics is important.

Nutritional genomics, often abbreviated as ‘nutrigenomics’ is about increasing that success rate. How will science working together with the consumer tackle the issues confronting us as the population ages? Consumer involvement can democratize the science of nutritional genomics by improving diets for better health. You can ask to work on ethics boards or create your own. How is discovering deep ancestry through DNA testing related to the ways that food affects your health?

Ancestry and diet are linked by biology, culture, and choices

It’s all about collaborating with your genes. Do you choose your food by habit or biology? Consumers need a guide to DNA testing for nutritional genomics as well as for ancestry and family history. Specific genetic variants interact and relate to nutrition.

Learn to interpret the expression of your genes before you count your calories. If you’re supposed to eat ‘bright’ for your ‘genotype,’ then you begin by mapping your genetic expression and learning how the raw data applies in a practical way to what you consume. This means genetic testing, interpretation, and application to food.

Nutritional Genomics for the Consumer

How are you managing your gene expression? In what direction are you moving? How do you make more intelligent choices of food to nourish your individual genotype? What is meant by intelligent foods that target and nourish specific genes?

Clinical dietetitians and nutritionists, by allying with molecular geneticists, genetics counselors, physicians, molecular genealogists, family historians, phenomics professionals, nutritional and medical anthropologists, and archaeogeneticists are collaborating with consumers of genetics testing, but what are they really sharing?

If not so much raw materials such as DNA from donors, is shared, then how about access to information—databases and various discussion forums online and e-mailing lists equally open to consumers, licensed healthcare providers, and research scientists? Who controls access to new research—the consumers, the corporations, or the scientists?

Can the average consumer afford to find out what to eat for improved health and nourishment based upon tests of genetic expression? Can consumers override any inherited risks revealed in the genetic signature with foods and nutraceuticals individually tailored? What does it mean to eat ‘smarter’ foods that target specific genes compared to eating more intelligently regarding choice?

Scientists compare genetic distances between populations by comparing the frequencies of forms of genes called ‘alleles.’ Mutant alleles can be mapped as population genetics markers. Some, but not all mutations in genes may put you at risk for certain chronic diseases if you eat the wrong foods for your genotype. The solution is to eat more ‘intelligent’ foods customized to your individual genetic profile.

Research also looks at rare alleles. Their rarity gives them special power as markers of genetic similarity. There’s a good chance two identical mutant alleles share a common origin. You can map genes for ancestral origin, migrations, or to reveal risks of disease depending upon which genes you map.

How do you as a consumer, not a scientist, choose the smartest food tailored to your genetic signature?

How do you interpret your DNA test results for ancestry or family history? What is the link between tailoring your foods to your genetic expression and tracing your ancestry though DNA testing? And what genes are tested for either reason? How do you bridge the gap between nutritional genomics profiling and testing DNA for deep ancestral origins?

Does ethnicity play any role in tailoring your food and nutraceuticals, drug dosages, or healthcare? How much can the average consumer self-educate and/or start a private DNA bank for a consumer or patient group? How do you raise funds, contract with research scientists, and form or serve groups needing their DNA researched for specific reasons? How does learning how to interpret the results of your DNA tests for ancestry relate to understanding genetic tests for cardiovascular or other inheritable risks?

Start researching on your own what you need to know as a consumer to have more choices in customizing foods for your genetic signature—your genotype. What are some realistic applications of genetic testing and profiling?

You may want to find out more about taking control of what happens to DNA that you may donate for research. Or you may wish to find out how to be in charge of your own nourishment and nutrition. Genetic profiling helps you to customize what you eat.

Many consumers want answers to questions such as the following: How do you nourish your body? What can your genes reveal to you through genetic testing and profiling? It’s your private information and should remain private. A good place to release it finally would be in a time capsule and history scrapbook for your heirs. Some branches of human genetic history are linked to your nutrition, ancestry, and most of all, nourishment.

Prosopography is all about human history and genes that travel because your genes have both a cultural and a biological component.

The cultural component includes onomastics which is the study of the origin of a name and its geographical and historical utilization. Put all these branches of molecular genetics together with molecular genealogy. Add nutritional genomics, and what do you have? Knowledge of how every molecule in your body responds to certain foods, lifestyles, exercise, healthcare, and an open door to learning how your respond to nutrition and nourishment.

Multidisciplinary nutrition research and collaboration is necessary for nutritional genomics to bring together diverse expertise. Scientists working in the disciplines of nutrition, biochemistry, and genetics need to share, collaborate, and interface in this field. If scientists are more concerned about positioning themselves first in publishing their research and won’t share DNA with all scientists, how can research ever move forward?

You might want to read the book, “The Metabolic and Molecular Bases of Inherited Disease, 4 volume set or "The Metabolic Basis of Inherited Disorders,” 6th ed. McGraw-Hill, New York: 2649-2680, 1989. Then compare the latest research in nutritional genomics on how smart foods (foods tailored to your genetic signature) influence risk of chronic disease. The longer science studies the entire genome (rather than the specific SNPs for certain chronic diseases) the more information will be forthcoming on how food and lifestyle influence your health based on the genes you inherited. See, The metabolic & molecular bases of inherited disease - Google Books.

Foods Tailored to Your Genotype

How do your genes respond to what you eat? How many diet-by-DNA book titles are there? Books on smarter foods? Tailored menus? Extracts of plants? DNA tests for ancestry? Ancestry and eating? Genes are distributed, function, and work in such ways that nearly every reasonable diet could work well in about six percent of the population.

Are you eating smart foods—foods tailored to your genotype—DNA, your ancestry, and your entire genome of genes? Are you ready to get a picture of your response to your nutrition? How can you eat to nourish your genotype? According to Genomics 120, a science, nutrition, and health site, are you wondering why in the United States currently only 50,000 people out of some 280 million live to be even 100 years old, or that your body may be aging nearly twice the rate it should be because you’re eating the wrong food for your genetic signature?

There is a strong connection between nutrition and genotype, especially in regards to your cardiovascular and central nervous system health. So you need to tailor foods intelligently to your genetic expression. The media buzz about ‘intelligent’ foods or ‘smart’ foods really means eating clean, safe, whole foods based on what your individual genes need to thrive. Not all your genes are tested. You might start your food research at the Food Resource website, a source of science-based and business savvy information for the food industry.

What happens when diet books for your condition aren’t working for you?

Maybe salt restriction isn’t working but exercise is for your condition. How do your genes respond to nutrition and nourishment? Are your genes intelligent, conscious, and communicating with you about their nutritional needs? If they are, so are the foods you eat. Your genes interact and collaborate as a team.

The language of communication is written in the human genome, in your individual genetic signature—in your DNA, in particular SNPs, and in all your genes and cellular material. Even your blood type is expressed in all the cells of your body. How does all this information signal you about what ‘smart’ foods and nutraceuticals to choose in order to help prevent or delay chronic disease for which your genes may put you at risk?

A slogan reads, “Smart foods for intelligent people.” Nutritional genomics is a buzz word in the news. Testing DNA for ancestry also bridges gaps in regard to customizing smarter foods to your genotype. Phenomics is about customized healthcare and medicine tailored to your genetic profile. Prosopography is an independent science of social history embracing genealogy, onomastics and demography. If you’re interested in metabolic typing, one, check out the site about Personal Metabolic Typing. For example, dentists may be interested to know that gum disease could be genetic and may be caused by a genetic predisposition to diabetes, heart disease, or low birth weight. A genetic profile on patients with deep pockets of gum disease might be useful. Check out the Holistic Dental Network.

Cracking the human genome code is so new and tests so costly. Currently only certain genetic markers are tested. The genetic signatures tested include genes that tell you about risk for certain diseases. Nutritional genomics as a field of research also is abbreviated as a generic term to read ‘nutrigenomics.’

Without testing all the genes, how can you know about all the diseases for which you may be at risk? And without knowing all the information that every one of your gene’s reveals, how can you develop a plan to override your genetic risks by nourishing your genes with what they need to stay healthier?

Here is how some scientists answered these questions.

According to an email interview several years ago, Dr. Fredric D. Abramson, Ph.D, S.M., President and CEO of AlphaGenics, Inc., explained in his writings, “The key to using diet to manage genes and health lies in managing gene expression (which we call the Expressitype). Knowing your genotype merely tells you a starting point. Genotype is like knowing where the entrance ramps to an interstate can be found. They are important to know, but tell you absolutely nothing about what direction to travel or how the journey will go. That is why Expressitype must be the focus.” You can check out the site of AlphaGenics, Inc regarding updates on what they currently offer.

Alpha Genics, Inc. is a nutrigenomics science company. A sidebar on the company’s Web site from Dr. Fredric Abramson, CEO reads (reprinted here with permission), “We are about to see a revolution in our concept of diet. Each of us is a unique organism and for the first time in human history, genetic research is confirming that one diet is not optimum for everyone.

Science is discovering that each individual’s DNA processes food and nutritious supplements in a unique way. Through the development of a cutting-edge DNA analytical system and consumer guidance, Alpha Genics will be able to tune nutrition to meet the needs of each individual resulting in optimum health, peak performance, and enhanced creativity.” What I also like about Alpha-Genics Inc. is that they have an independent, separate Ethics Board.

It is not part of the regular Board of Directors. It has five members: three outsiders, one representative from the Board of Directors, and one representative of the employees. The Ethics Board has no veto power, but has a seat on the Board of Directors. Compensation for the Ethics Board members comes through a blind trust, which means the Ethics Board has neither control nor knowledge of how the funds develop.

“I created this because I think companies need to have independent voices to provide reality checks,” says Dr. Fredric Abramson. “It is something like that scene in Patton when he talks about the Roman conqueror returning home to glory, with someone standing just beside him reminding him that fame is fleeting. An independent Ethics Board helps us make better choices.”

Bridging the gaps for the general consumer about nutrigenomics

Consumers can bridge the gap between ethics boards and the media by acting as liaisons, ombudsmen, lobbyists, trustees, recruiters, communicators, independent board members, fee-for-service contractors, industry watchers, or volunteers. Get involved in the nutritional genomics industry.

You even can put together coporate gift baskets full of nutritional genomics products or samples. Throw a nutritional genomics party in any home, office, or meeting pace, in church basements, teacher’s lounges after school, or at conventions. Make tape recordings about nutritional genomics and post the radio-length broadcasts to your Web site. So many news stories in the media give the impression that the average consumer will have to wait a decade for genomic testing to be applied to customized foods.

For example, the New York Times Magazine published an article by NY Times Magazine writer Bruce Grierson titled, “What Your Genes Want You to Eat: New Way to Look at Disease.” The article also appeared in the Sacramento Bee, a daily newspaper, on Sunday July 13, 2003 on the Science page. Sundays are great for reading the Science page in the Forum section. There’s time to read the cutting-edge science articles, many of which are reprinted from other, major urban publications. It’s a family tradition for four decades.

Readers were impressed by the media buzz around the relatively new field of nutritional genomics. In the past, the media buzz circled around testing DNA for ancient ancestry and genealogy, during which I took several DNA tests for ancestry and enjoyed the results. This decade, DNA and diet is fast-track news. DNA and foods also tie into food safety and security issues.

Most people who buy from health food stores like to know that when they go into a health food store and buy a package of imported powdered ginger under the title of herbs or botanicals that it’s clean and contains no toxic pesticides, residues, bad bacteria, or unsafe chemicals. Consumers often think about who inspects these imports and do they rush through, take enough time, or have enough staff? If you buy fresh ginger root, you're concerned whether it’s organic or still full of pesticide residue.

You may wish to check out the article, “What Your Genes Want You to Eat - New York Times,” This author several years ago interviewed by e-mail Dr. Frederic Abramson, CEO of Alpha-Genics Incorporated to listen to some of his views on nutrition and genetics. At the time of the interview, Dr. Abramson taught part-time at Johns Hopkins University, in the graduate program in Biotechnology.

Nearly a decade ago, in an e-mail interview, I asked Dr. Frederic Abramson, CEO of Alpha-Genics Incorporated the following questions in an e-interview. Here are his answers.

1. When do you think genomic testing might be available to most consumers?

This is an important question. From a practical perspective, genomic testing--for part of a person's total genome--is possible today. We can test for several thousand genes right now. So this leads to two subquestions. One, when will testing of an entire genome be possible? And two, when will low-cost testing be available.

Experts argue about whether we have 30,000 or 70,000 genes, or somewhere in between. Regardless of the number, we are five years away from a comprehensive full genotype test of all genes in a person. By genotype, I mean the identification of which genes a person has.

But it is not your genotype which determines things. It is the work that your specific genes do. Think of genotype as the location of exit ramps on an interstate. You need to know where these are, but they tell you nothing about where you are going and what the journey will be like.

To identify these, we must look at each gene's level of activity, called “gene expression.” We call the gene expression the Expressitype. Gene expression changes over time for many genes. How do we know this? Because we age. We start as children, go though puberty, become adults, and then start declining. All of this is substantially under genetic control. Some people age faster than other. It's in their genes.

Right now testing costs a fair amount. And seldom is gene testing covered by insurance. But over time, the technology advances will enable very low cost tests. For example, measuring gene expression in several thousand genes can cost between $800 to $3,000, depending on who does it. But a Japanese company is working on a test that will end up costing less than $100 for 900 genes. Thus, one thing we can be sure of is that the costs will drop. Just like computers, VCR's and microwaves.

We are working to bring the test cost to be under $1,000, with a monthly follow-up of around $79. The monthly fee lets you contact us by phone or email anytime to ask whether something you want to eat might help you or not.

We are working with Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh to develop a small implantable device that will measure vital chemicals in the blood, and send signals outside the body. This will let us track what is happening in a person around the clock, every day, with much more accuracy and less guesswork.

2. What do you think is the most important area of research in nutritional genomics today?

The most important area is to identify how the dietary system, which is composed of hundreds and thousands of chemicals in varying dosages, interacts with the thousands of genes in the genome to produce health, or illness. This is generally called "systems biology." Basically, we can no longer look at single things for easy answers. It won't be just a question of whether you eat blueberries or bananas or rice, but what balance of each of these you eat over time.

This points to the second area, to understand the dynamics of how changes in diet influence the work each person's genes is doing. The value of systems biology is that ultimately, we will be able to identify individualized responses to diet, based on genetic composition.

3. Do you have any advice for those who are looking for tailored diets for specific conditions--if genotype testing is not available today, what is the next best thing for the average consumer who has already had a DNA test of merely the mtDNA or Y chromosome for ancestry?

Ironically, many of the folk suggestions about diet weren't far wrong. So first look to your family history. If you have heart disease in your family, think about a diet that has a bit less fat and more antioxidants. There are similar observations about other conditions like arthritis and cancer.

Generally, if you have a DNA test at this point, it is for one or very few genes. This helps. But remember that most major health conditions are the result of many, many genes acting in concert, not just one gene.

I'll admit it can be confusing with so many different recommendations about diet. To me, this reflects the way in which our genetic diversity makes one diet work well for me and not well for you, while another diet has the exact opposite effect.

4. What is the area of research your company is focusing on now?

Our research focus is to understand how the specific ingredients of diet influence genetic activity. And by diet we include food, supplements, medications, chemicals in water, and even cosmetics, for all of these contain chemicals that influence genes.

The goal of our research is to translate the science into practical day-to-day advice for each person, based on his/her own genetic profile and genetic activity. We want to make genomics something that is useful for each of use every day instead of some industrial science.

This is the same thing that happened when Edison invented the light bulb. Suddenly, electricity was something that every home needed. For us, our success in delivering NutriGenomics to the consumer will make genomics something that everyone will want to use to live their lives a bit better.

5. Where can I refer readers today to learn more?

The amount of literature on the Internet is growing almost daily. Two weeks ago, the commission of the FDA mentioned NutriGenomics in his major speech at Harvard.

We welcome readers to contact us. We are assembling the world's first comprehensive NutriGenomic knowledge base, which we will use to help consumers make better choices. We build our research insights on the actual experience of what real people do.

Our current high priority is a totally new method to prevent viral infections using NutriGenomics. We discovered this in January, and have been working to get government support to conduct this important research. We believe we can develop a way to protect many people from the dangers of certain types of viruses, such as a weaponized flu.

6. Do you work with patients directly or only with their managing physicians or both?

We will work with patients directly and with physicians. When a physician is involved, we will be sure to include the physician in the information loop so the person continues to get the best care.

7. How many genes do you test? Do you prescribe a diet or nutraceuticals based on the results?

In the current stage, we will test about 2,000 genes, mainly for the cardiovascular cluster (cardiovascular disease, diabetes, obesity, hypertension, high cholesterol). The virus testing is planned to be a separate test.

The specific food/supplement recommendations are made directly to the person. These change as the person's genetic activity changes. It would be a mistake to prescribe one type of diet for life. Our genes and bodies don't work that way.

The procedure is simple. We get a sample from you, typically from your cheek lining or blood (if you go to a physician). We identify the genes (genotype) and the amount of genetic activity for each gene (expressitype). We provide you a report summarizing the results. Then, depending on your decision, we will provide you general dietary recommendations based on your genes, or will begin to work with you as often as daily to help you choose what you like to eat.

It's worth noting here that the so-called 'med diet' is based on a month of eating, whereas the USDA model is a daily model. We prefer the monthly approach for the evidence is that eating has a cumulative effect. Another way of saying this is "no one meal will ever hurt you. It is the combination of lots of bad meals that hurts. So knock yourself out."

Fredric D. Abramson, Ph.D., S.M.
President & CEO
AlphaGenics, Inc.

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