Recent years have seen the entry of unfamiliar words into the mainstream, no doubt promulgated by widespread use of the Internet and social media. The health and wellness sphere is no exception; new buzz words seemingly enter the healthcare lexicon constantly, and you may already have noticed given the prevalence of words ending in the suffix, “-omics”: genomics, nutrigenomics, metabolomics, to name a few. Countless news articles including these words and their concepts appear to be published with great frequency – on a nearly daily basis, or so it seems.
The suffix “-ology” refers to the study of a general subject (e.g. biology = study of life, psychology = study of the mind, theology = study of God), while “-omics” is more specific in that it refers to a field of study within molecular biology. In the same way that words like “selfie” and “social media” were not in our vocabulary even a decade ago, the terms below are relatively new but will likely become household words in the future.
In an age of personalized medicine, these are some basic “-omics” with which to become familiar:
- Genomics: a field of study in biology that focuses on genes, typically in humans. The entire set of genes that humans carry is referred to as the human genome, and the study of the human genome is called genomics. This is slightly different from the study of specific genes, which we know as genetics. Simply stated, genomics refers to the study of all genes while genetics refers to the study of specific genes.
- Nutrigenomics: the study of nutrient impact (from either food or supplements) on gene expression. Scientists have confirmed that nutrition can affect genetic expression profoundly. The interaction of nutrients (or lack of nutrients) and genes and how they are expressed is currently a trending research focus.
- Metabolomics: a field of study in molecular biology that focuses on metabolites (the products of cellular metabolism). Like a genome, a metabolome is the entire set of metabolites that occurs in an organism. The study of the entire system of metabolic processes is called metabolomics.
- Microbiomics: the study of the microbiome, which refers to bacteria (and their genes) present in the human body, especially in the gastrointestinal tract.
- Pharmacogenomics: this refers to the study of identifying how a person’s genetic makeup affects their response to pharmaceutical drugs, including how they metabolize or absorb certain medications.
- Lipidomics: the study of lipids (fats) within biological systems, such as how fats convert into healthy or unhealthy fats, and how certain lipids influence obesity, inflammation, or heart disease.
- Proteomics: the study of all the proteins relevant to a biological system.
Advances in molecular biology are constantly shedding new light on the way the human body functions at the cellular level. As innovation continues, you can expect the terms above will become more commonplace, and related terms more numerous: the –omics are here to stay!
What is nutrigenomics,
When it comes to nutrients and bioactive substances, most people are familiar with vitamins and minerals, but less knowledgeable about amino acids. These biologically important compounds, much like vitamins and minerals, can impact fat metabolism and weight loss in profound ways. These are some examples of amino acids with roles in weight management:
- Asparagine: First isolated and so named due to its presence in asparagus, this amino acid increases insulin sensitivity, which helps the body store energy in muscle instead of storing it as body fat. Asparagine supplementation has been shown in studies to reduce fatigue after intense exercise.
- Carnitine: A combination of the individual amino acids lysine and methionine, carnitine is a compound whose primary role is to transport fatty acids into a cell so that they can be burned for fuel. Carnitine can help reduce visceral adiposity (fat around the midsection) by increasing the availability of fatty acids for energy.
- Glutamine: This amino acid improves glucose uptake by muscle, which can ultimately reduce fat mass.
- Cysteine: Supplementation with this sulfur-containing amino acid has been shown to reduce fat in obese patients. It also has powerful antioxidant properties, which helps keep oxidative stress (linked to obesity) at bay.
Despite their lower profile, amino acids can have an equally powerful effect on overall health as vitamins and minerals. SpectraCell’s Micronutrient Test measures these and many other micronutrients. Detecting and addressing deficiencies are critical steps in enhancing metabolism, promoting health, and looking and feeling your best – be sure to get tested today!
Amino Acids That Affect Metabolism,
Minerals are substances required within cells to catalyze metabolic reactions. These chemical reactions largely determine the ability of the body to carry out metabolism and ultimately, health status. When it comes to weight management, mineral deficiencies can compromise metabolism. Below are some examples, among many, of familiar minerals with a role in this process:
- Zinc: A zinc deficiency can reduce the hormone leptin (this hormone regulates appetite and promotes satiety), therefore signaling you to stop eating for the short-term following a meal. Leptin is released in a dose-dependent manner in response to insulin. Any alteration in the efficiency of either hormone (insulin or leptin) can potentially affect the other.
- Calcium: This bones health mineral inhibits the formation of fat cells and burns fat cells by oxidizing fatty acids for energy.
- Chromium: This mineral makes cells more sensitive to insulin, thus helping reduce body fat and increase lean muscle.
- Magnesium: Low magnesium in cells impairs a person’s ability to use glucose for fuel, instead storing it as fat. Correcting a magnesium deficiency stimulates metabolism by increasing insulin sensitivity, and may also inhibit fat absorption.
- Copper: A copper deficiency can lead to the inability to metabolize fructose efficiently, which can lead to decreased energy levels and high blood triglycerides. Copper also has a role fatty acid metabolism; repletion can help optimize metabolism.
- Selenium: In some, a selenium deficiency can reduce thyroid hormone levels since it is a cofactor for the conversion of precursor thyroid hormone (T4) to active thyroid hormone (T3). Reduced thyroid function resulting from selenium deficiency will lower metabolism throughout the body.
- Manganese: This mineral is a cofactor to the powerful antioxidant, superoxide dismutase, which works to quell inflammation, one of the key contributors to obesity and weight gain.
Since they work synergistically, mineral balance is key. The “if-some-is-good, more-is-better” approach can be dangerous when it comes to micronutrients because too much of one can induce a deficiency in another. This is why a comprehensive analysis of micronutrient status is essential. SpectraCell’s Micronutrient Test measures not only these minerals, but several other micronutrients including vitamins, antioxidants, amino and fatty acids, and metabolites.
Minerals and Metabolism,
New research suggests that the answer to this question is YES. As you might have noticed, a lot of information regarding the impact of environment on genes has been published recently. Take cancer, for example. One may be genetically predisposed to a certain cancer that runs in one’s family. However, simply possessing this gene does not determine one’s health outcomes or health destiny. It has become clear that in many cases, we can profoundly compensate for the genetic hand that we been dealt by controlling our environment. Smoking is a clear example: it is common knowledge that abstaining from cigarette smoking dramatically reduces one’s risk for lung cancer. This is a widely understood and powerful example of epigenetics, a concept referring to the idea that environment influences genetic expression. This represents a departure from the traditional view of genetics. Scientists now know that it’s not simply a matter of whether one carries a gene for a disease (cancer, heart disease, dementia, etc), but whether one expresses that gene. And whether we express that gene has much to do with our lifestyle choices (environment) – these lifestyle factors may influence genes in a way that disease does not manifest. Another way of saying this is that we are not entirely at the mercy of our genes.
So, what does this have to do with overweight? A recent study demonstrated that high BMI (body mass index) due to excess fat can modify a person’s DNA in several places on the DNA strand. These changes resulted from an alteration in methylation patterns (methylation is a process where methyl groups are added at specific sites in DNA molecules and is influenced by the cellular environment). Inflammation and micronutrient availability within cells are examples of these alterations that affect methylation patterns. This study confirms that cellular environment – specifically, excess fat tissue – affects genetic expression. Carrying excess weight can therefore impact genetic expression.
For more details, download the abstract entitled, Epigenome-wide association study of body mass index, and the adverse outcomes of adiposity, published in the January 2017 issue of Nature. (Abstract 2581)
Environmental Influence on Gene Expression
A recently published study in the Journal of Clinical Lipidology suggests a possible relationship. In this randomized double-blind placebo-controlled trial (the gold standard for medical publications), sixty diabetics with confirmed kidney disease were divided into two groups: one group (n=30) took 1200 IU/d of vitamin E, while the other group (n=30) took placebo. After 12 weeks, the group taking vitamin E showed a significant reduction in several biomarkers of kidney inflammation; although glucose levels and insulin resistance (biomarkers for blood sugar control and indicators of developing diabetes) showed no improvement, there was a significant decrease in insulin concentration (a positive biological effect).
For more details, download our abstract entitled The effects of high-dose vitamin E supplementation on biomarkers of kidney injury, inflammation, and oxidative stress in patients with diabetic nephropathy: A randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial.
Previous studies have linked low folic acid with an increased risk of ischemic stroke (stroke caused by oxygen deprivation) but new research sheds light on how damage occurs. In this animal study, scientists demonstrated that after a stroke, brain tissue is damaged both from lack of oxygen and through the prolonged activation of autophagy, a process whose function is to degrade dysfunctional parts of a cell. When folic acid is deficient, autophagy is accelerated to the point where nerve cells die, thus exacerbating damage to the brain after an initial stroke.
For more details, download the abstract entitled Folic acid deficiency increases brain cell injury via autophagy enhancement after focal cerebral ischemia.
Folic Acid and Strokes,
Folic Acid Deficiency,
When it comes to micronutrient name recognition, vitamins and minerals typically get the spotlight (think vitamin C, vitamin D, Magnesium). Less well known are antioxidants, the superstars when it comes to protection from oxidative stress and free radicals. Lipoic acid (AKA thioctic acid) is one such nutrient. This particular substance is unique in that it has antioxidant properties in both water and lipids (most antioxidants protect only one, but not the other). Its unique chemical structure makes it soluble in both, which is a physiologically important attribute. Fat-soluble nutrients protect cell membranes (which are made of fats), and water-soluble nutrients protect intracellular fluid.
Another biologically important feature is its ability to regenerate (and therefore activate) other antioxidants such as vitamin C, vitamin E, glutathione, cysteine and coenzyme Q10 when they have been “used up.” It can bind to insulin receptors, and consequently enhances glucose uptake into muscles, making it useful in improving glucose tolerance in persons with Type 2 Diabetes. Lipoic Acid can also be effective in the treatment of certain diabetic complications such as peripheral neuropathy. Given its ability to protect against damage to fat-soluble cell structures (lipid peroxidation), it’s not surprising that this antioxidant may also help protect against the neuron injury often seen in Alzheimer’s patients. This powerful micronutrient’s impressive list of roles at the cellular level provides clear justification for its designation as a “supernutrient,” making it an effective therapy in a variety of conditions from cataracts to erectile dysfunction.
Interested in knowing how your antioxidant levels stack up? Get tested today!
Did you know that everything you’ve learned about cholesterol and its association with heart attacks is only partly correct? Consider this startling statistic: 50% of people who have suffered a heart attack, have "normal" cholesterol. Another way of saying this is that among heart attack victims, standard cholesterol testing would have detected “normal” ranges in half of this population had it been performed on the day of their event. This begs the question: why do so many practitioners use a diagnostic test that only identifies 50% of those at risk? The reason is simple: it is the test with which they are familiar and has been in use for decades. But did you know that HDL and LDL (the “good” and “bad” cholesterol), are only some of the pieces of the puzzle? Knowing your HDL (good) and LDL (bad) cholesterol is only the beginning; SpectraCell’s LPP (Lipoprotein Particle Profile) test identifies these and other components, shedding light on a spectrum of factors that provide detailed information about one’s cardiovascular health.
Here is one way to look at heart disease: when blood vessels are injured or inflamed, lipoproteins containing cholesterol and other lipids penetrate the arterial lining and build plaque. This is akin to a scab on the inside of a blood vessel, causing a reduction in blood flow. Since plaque buildup is the physiological response to injured and inflamed vessels, reducing these factors is critical.
This is where cholesterol comes in. Plaque is actually a response to vascular injury - not the cause of it. Cholesterol, a component of plaque, is rarely the culprit, but lipoproteins are. Lipoproteins are particles that penetrate the arterial lining and build plaque as a result of the injury. These tiny particles carry cholesterol (the vascular scapegoat) through the bloodstream, and cause damage (cholesterol is really just one component of lipoproteins). In other words, lipoproteins are often the real villain (some are extraordinarily dangerous, others are completely benign).
Lipoproteins are classified by size. In general, the bigger, the better, and here’s why: larger, fluffier low density lipoprotein (LDL) particles cannot penetrate the arterial lining as easily as smaller LDL particles can. Less injury to the artery over time results in less plaque formation along with clearer, more pliable blood vessels (this is a good thing). Remnant lipoproteins (RLPs) are cited as having a very strong relationship with heart disease. Statins, which are often prescribed to lower LDLs, will do little to lower RLPs – these are best lowered by high-dose omega-3 fatty acids. Understanding one’s own lipoprotein profile (number and type of LDLs) floating in the bloodstream, is key to promoting improved vascular health outcomes through lifestyle change.
Without any objective information regarding one’s lipoprotein profile, many people are simply shooting in the dark in terms of treatment for these types of cardiovascular issues. The message is clear: simply measuring cholesterol without taking into account lipoprotein particle numbers and density is certainly not enough, as suggested by the 50% statistic cited above. Talk to your health care provider about pursuing a lipoprotein profile test to get a comprehensive assessment of your cardiac risk factors. We saved the best part for last: SpectraCell's LPP test costs about the same as an outdated cholesterol test, and is often covered by insurance!
LDL and HDL,
Standard Cholesterol Testing
Chronic fatigue syndrome (also known as myalgic encephalomyelitis) is notoriously difficult to diagnose since it manifests with esoteric symptoms that often overlap with other disorders such as fibromyalgia, depression, and hormone imbalances. However, new research from the University of California sheds light on the metabolic abnormalities seen in Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS), regardless of cause. Although several factors can trigger its onset (viral infection, illness, traumatic injury, severe emotional stress or something else), the “chemical signature” among patients with CFS is strikingly similar.
The UC study confirms that CFS is a hypometabolic state, similar in some ways to a type of hibernation. Specifically, most CFS patients have lower amounts of a type of fat (“sphingolipids”). This substance physically protects cells, and appears to be an adaptive response that may oppose viral or bacterial infection within a cell. By entering into a hypometabolic state, cells permit survival under conditions of environmental stress, but at a price: severely curtailed function and quality of life. The research seems to suggest that science may be closer to developing a lab test that removes diagnostic uncertainty about this common disorder.
Chronic Fatigue Syndrome,
We’ve all heard the proverbial advice for achieving a healthy body and maintaining our weight: exercise and “eat right.” But for those who really want to delve further into the science behind an enviable metabolism, we offer a list of vitamins with an explanation of their role in the body’s ability to burn fat and build muscle.
- Vitamin A: This vitamin is particularly good at regulating how genes are expressed. Although genes do determine to an extent how the body stores or burns fat, our genes are, simply stated, not our destiny. Two persons with the same gene may express it very differently, depending on their individual cellular environment. This is where vitamin A enters the picture. It can actually enhance the expression of certain genes that lower a person’s tendency to store food as fat. If one is vitamin A deficient, s/he may be pre-disposed to storing fat tissue. On the other hand, correcting a vitamin A deficiency may have a different, more positive effect, as studies have indicated that vitamin A may reduce the size of fat cells.
- Vitamin D: Similar to vitamin A, vitamin D (commonly referred to as the “sunshine vitamin”) affects genetic expression, including the way that fat cells develop. A vitamin D deficiency is strongly linked to poor carbohydrate metabolism: instead of efficiently burning carbohydrate for fuel (which consequently helps impart energy and mental focus), the body instead stores carbohydrate as fat. Correcting a vitamin D deficiency can boost metabolism by reversing this deleterious effect.
- Vitamin E: This micronutrient affects metabolism by inhibiting immature fat cells from developing into mature fat cells, which are more “stubborn,” metabolically speaking. The cumulative effect of this is a reduction in fat storage.
- Vitamin B3: Also called niacin, vitamin B3 can increase the hormone adiponectin, which is secreted by fat cells. Adiponectin’s main function is to signal cells to burn fuel. It also has a role in helping muscles use glucose for energy rather than storing it as fat.
- Vitamin B5: Some evidence suggests that vitamin B5 (AKA pantothenate or pantothenic acid) might be helpful for weight loss because it has been associated with less hunger when dieting. At the cellular level, vitamin B5 activates the enzyme lipoprotein lipase, which breaks down fat cells.
This list is by no means exhaustive: in fact, there are multiple micronutrient influences on weight loss. These micronutrients work both individually and synergistically, and repletion often promotes clinical benefits throughout the body. It should come as no surprise that micronutrient adequacy also supports heart health and energy levels. Therefore, discovering (then correcting) micronutrient deficiencies becomes a critical first step in improving overall health.
Tired of not getting the results you want? Interested in learning how you can improve the efficacy of your weight management routine? Get tested and find out how your micronutrient status stacks up!
Vitamins and weight loss,
Role of micronutrients in weight management,
Effective weight loss,
Effective weight management