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Gene, Diet, Disease


Human health is the result of constant interaction between genes and environmental factors. The most significant and controllable environmental factors in this respect are the food we eat and the lifestyle we practice daily. Of the more than 3 billion base pairs of human genome sequences, 97-99% are identical between any given two individuals. Therefore, the fundamental processes of food metabolism in every human body are pretty much the same. This is why some general practice such as calorie restriction and active lifestyle are beneficial to everyone. However, the 1-3% genome difference among human individuals, including genetic mutations in about 300 genes and polymorphism of another 200 plus genes, predispose different extent of risks to diseases and cause distinct responses to different types of food. This is why personalized diet becomes necessary. The differential response to food is the result of millions of years of evolution process. For example, the genetic makeup of descendents of hunter tribes is more suitable for meat rich diet (high protein and high fat) while that of the farmer tribes deal with high carbohydrate diet better. Nowadays, we are exposed to all sorts of food resources in excess. Yet our genes remain pretty much the same as our ancestors’. A mismatched gene and diet choice would inevitably lead to detrimental effects to our health. Accumulation of the detrimental effect eventually manifested as chronic diseases such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, cancer, obesity, autoimmune diseases, rheumatoid arthritis, asthma and depression.

The last decade of advance in sequencing technologies and the rapid accumulation of genome information give birth to the science of nutrigenomics, the study of gene- nutrition-disease interactions. To date, nutrigenomics has discovered many diet responsive gene polymorphisms. By integrating current advances in the nutrigenomics and detailed nutritional information available for a comprehensive list of food sources, GB Lifesciences develops gene-based diets that are compatible with specific genetic backgrounds while maintaining a balanced nutrition and calorie intake from diverse food sources.

From the evolutionary perspective, human genome has been shaped mainly by the adaptation to local and regional dietary resources. There are several major dietary transitions in the history of human evolution. About 2.5 million years ago, human ancestors began to use stone tools, leading to the consumption of animal meat through scavenging and hunting in addition to their plant based food sources. In these so called hunter-gatherer years, human genome evolved so-called thrift genes that promote more efficient food utilization, fat deposition, and rapid weight gain during times of food abundance and confer to their carriers a higher chance of survival during times of famine. Around 100-200 thousand years ago, modern human began to domesticate plants and animals, leading to the dietary supply mainly from a few domesticated plants and animals, which might be different regionally but in general represented more available calories and much less diversity in the nutrient source. In about 10 thousand years ago, the Agricultural Revolution, represented by the flourishing farming and animal husbandry, provided about 100-fold more availability of food. Nevertheless, food resource to the contemporary human population was still in short supply. The thrift genes still played important roles in helping human cope with the cycles of food abundance and scarcity.

Then the Industrial Revolution, started more than 100 years ago, brought excess and processed junk food (high glycemic index diet) on the table. The most dramatic transformation in human diet occurred in the last fifty years, especially in the Western countries. Industrialized food production and processed food industry bloomed. Highly processed food became so cheap and so readily available to general human population that over eating became epidemic. In addition to the excess calorie intake, modern human lifestyle became more sedative. The car transportation, computer and TV screen based working and living environment led to much less calorie expenditure. The results were rapid accumulation of energy in the form of weight gain in human population. Comparing to the dramatic dietary transformation, human genome remains almost the same. The about 200 thrift genes that used to be advantageous in the hunter-gatherer era become detrimental to modern human health under the Western diets, causing the “civilization diseases” — chronic conditions including cardiovascular disease, diabetes, cancer, obesity, autoimmune diseases, rheumatoid arthritis, asthma and depression.

Equipped with the latest advances in nutrigenetics and nutrigenomics, scientists at GB Lifesciences are working diligently on gene-diet-disease interactions. Our goal is to develop personalized gene diets and exercise regimes to combat the “civilization diseases” for people with any genetic makeup.

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