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Understanding Your Genes: Q&A with Paige McDonald, MScFN, RD, Nutrigenomix

Genetic testing is all the rage these days – even the FLIK Hospitality team has gotten on board! 

We’ve recently collaborated with Nutrigenomix to offer our clients and colleagues evidence-based, non-invasive DNA testing that can help individuals understand what the best diet is for them, based on their genes. Nutrigenomix test kits examine how 70 of your genes impact weight loss, body composition, nutrient metabolism, heart health, performance, fertility, food intolerances, and eating habits. We were so excited about the partnership (and the science behind it!) we decided to interview Paige McDonald, MScFN, RD, Manager of Clinician Services

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FLIK: Thanks for chatting with us, Paige. Our team of dietitians comes from all different backgrounds, and everyone’s nutrition story is unique. Can you tell us a little about your nutrition story; what got you into the field? 

Paige: I was born and raised in a small town in Southwestern Ontario, Canada. From a young age, I always enjoyed being in the kitchen, especially cooking with my mother and grandmother. My favorite childhood recipe was my mom’s “Muffins that Taste Like Donuts” – they are so good! This interest led me to take a Foods and Nutrition class in high school, and from there I was hooked! I went on to complete my Bachelor of Science in Foods and Nutrition followed by my Master of Science in Foods and Nutrition from Brescia University College and Western University in London, Ontario, Canada. I currently work in various areas of dietetics – private practice, long-term care, and Nutrigenomix.

F:  Wow, we are definitely going to need that recipe! I’m salivating just thinking about it! Nutritional genomics (nutrigenomics) is such an interesting field, how did you become interested in it?

P:  Nutrigenomics was a minimal component of the education I received in my undergraduate degree, which seems to be consistent with many other dietitian’s experiences whom I’ve spoken with from both Canada and the United States. During graduate school, a classmate of mine completed a research project on the topic, which spiked my interest in the field. I started to do more research on the topic and sent away for my personal Nutrigenomix test. I remember staying up all night reading every page of the results, so I knew I had to channel this excitement and help other dietitians and healthcare practitioners learn more about Nutrigenomix.

F:  Who is a good candidate for completing a Nutrigenomix test?

P: If you eat and drink and you care about your health then you’re a good candidate for testing! The idea behind the test is not to treat existing conditions or diseases. For those who are currently healthy and want to understand how to stay healthy, the report helps them determine their optimal nutritional intake.

F:  Safety and security are incredibly important. How will a client’s personal information be protected?

P:  Nutrigenomix ensures the anonymity of all samples and uses the most stringent standards for secure data transfer, privacy and security. DNA samples are stored in our secure, controlled-access facilities and labeled only with a unique barcode, which only your healthcare professional will know belongs to you. The United States and Canada have laws in place to protect individuals from insurance companies and employers using, requesting, or requiring genetic test results. Other countries have similar protections on consumer data. Importantly, we do not test for any genetic markers that are diagnostic of any disease, determine paternity, identify relatives, or identify an individual (e.g. for forensics).

F:  We know some people may be on the fence about getting the test. How would clients benefit from having this genetic test over just following general dietary recommendations?

P: While food and nutrition guidelines set by government agencies are important to follow, evidence has demonstrated that those one-size-fits-all nutrition recommendations can be inefficient, and often ineffective. Research in the area of nutrigenomics explains why some individuals respond differently from others to the same foods, beverages, nutrients, and supplements consumed. For example, while current guidelines advise to limit caffeine intake to 400 mg per day, this may not be suitable for about half of the population that has the risk variant of the CYP1A2 gene. Research has shown that carriers of this gene variant are at an increased risk of hypertension, pre-diabetes, and heart attack with increased caffeine intake. Our test would advise those individuals to limit their caffeine intake to no more than 200 mg per day, and the only way to know if you fall into this category is to know which variant of the gene you possess. Similar personalized recommendations apply to many other nutrients including sodium, iron, calcium, and vitamin D, to name a few. A personalized approach can also help you determine if a high protein or low-fat diet might help with weight loss. 

F: That is fascinating! How are genes identified and how do you know these trends are accurate?

P: The genes analyzed in the Nutrigenomix report are chosen through the process of reviewing the literature and conducting research to determine which markers provide the most robust scientific evidence. Our Science Advisory Board’s focus is on the quality of the markers (ie. the strength of the evidence) over the quantity of markers included in the report. The goal of the Nutrigenomix report is to provide practitioners and their clients with clear, actionable, personalized recommendations for markers relating to nutrition and fitness.

F: We know many people reading this are curious to know how they can make changes to their diet and lifestyle after reviewing their report. Can you provide an example of when a client was able to make lifestyle changes as a result of their Nutrigenomix report and what the outcome was?

P: We know through research that individuals who receive personalized nutrition information from the results of a genetic test are more likely to follow these recommendations compared to those who only receive general, population-based advice. I have seen this to be true for many of the clients I’ve counseled in the past, and it’s very exciting to be involved in this type of practice. 

One particular example that comes to mind is a client who made various changes to their lifestyle as a result of the recommendations outlined in the Nutrigenomix report. In particular, she found out through her Nutrigenomix report that she had an elevated risk for a vitamin B12 deficiency when her intake is inadequate as a result of the FUT2 gene. She was feeling quite tired and had previously thought it was related to her busy schedule. After reviewing her report and food frequency questionnaire, she had bloodwork done, and it was determined that her vitamin B12 levels were low. This particular client does consume animal products (which is where we get the majority of vitamin B12 in the diet), and now routinely takes a vitamin B12 supplement to ensure that her blood levels remain within an ideal range.  She now has her energy back!

One last example of how I have used the report to help counsel a client is related to occasional gastro-intestinal distress she was experiencing (bloating, cramps and diarrhea). The symptoms she was experiencing weren’t consistent, and she was therefore having a difficult time determining what may be contributing to this distress. The results of the MCM6 gene indicated that she has an elevated risk for lactose intolerance. After finding out these results, she decreased her lactose intake by substituting her lactose-containing foods with lactose-free alternatives and no longer experienced these symptoms. She is aware of the amount of lactose-containing foods she can consume and is able to enjoy these foods in tolerable quantities. 

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