How Lab Testing, Genetics, and Microbiology Improves the Field of Nutrition
The human body is as unique inside as it is outside. Just as you wouldn’t expect everyone to wear size 7 shoes, you also shouldn’t expect everyone to benefit from the same diet. At minimum, the right diet includes age, health, activity level and gender. But that’s just a start. Personalized nutrition can go farther to identify, fix and improve body function. With tools like lab testing, genetics and microbiology, it means that nutrition improvements are more precise. Symptoms often go away and treatment isn’t needed.
1. Lab testing identifies nutrient problems of the individual. There are a lot of interpretations of what’s considered a ‘healthy diet’, but even a healthy diet needs to be personalized to the individual. A daily green drink may seem like a good idea, but what if you have common problems like hypothyroid symptoms, high oxalate level, or genetic folate issues? Lab testing can identify these so you know if juiced greens are healthy or if they are more likely to be harmful for you.
2. Genetics - cutting-edge science for nutritionists is starting to be used in a few clinics like mine. Genetic metabolic pathways can be traced using a combination of information that lines up genes with nutrition. When a person has symptoms like anxiety or poor sleep, gene mapping can be used as a useful tool. The expression of neurotransmitters can improve with the addition of nutrition. When the genetic-nutrition problem is fixed, and the genes are supported, symptoms often go away.
3. Microbiology - The current gut microbiome project has identified ‘diversity of species’ as having some of the greatest implications for our health. Building and maintaining healthy digestive flora means we probably should identify and fix digestive problems like ‘bloating and gas’ and not just use acid blockers to ignore the symptoms. When we fix problems like gastrointestinal yeast or pathogenic bacterial overgrowth, we’re better able to absorb vital nutrients and rebuild healthy microbial colonies.
For me, these tools have changed how I do nutrition. I'm not interested in diagnosis and treatment – that’s something I leave to the doctors. I look at disease differently, through patient history, nutritional lab testing, genetics and microbiology. My end goals are the things patients have identified, regardless of their condition. Patients want an abundance of energy, sharp brain focus, good mood and better sleep. These are the things that improve every condition.
Fibromyalgia is a good example of how I look at disease differently. Doctors treat it as hypochondria because medical lab tests are ‘normal’, patients have a really long list of complaints, and they look ‘normal’. But as a nutritionist I look at fibromyalgia as a problem of genetic expression. It’s a mitochondrial problem affecting energy metabolism. Genes are triggered by their environment, and their workload is near or at the limit. Nutrients have been used up. The energy is gone. The person is actually quite ill. Note: If you’re a fibro patient and are reading this, the good news is that I firmly believe it’s reversible, and that your vitality can be restored. With nutrition, gene mapping, and determination you can get your life back.
Pamela Zinn MS is a clinical nutritionist in Holland MI specializing in genetics. She is an active member of SHEI, an international group of nutrigenomic practitioners and researchers.