Interview on the topic: “You are what you eat” (18.11.2016)

Interview following the appearance of Dr. Daniel Wallerstorfer on SWR “NACHTCAFE” on the topic: “You are what you eat” (18.11.2016)

Dr. Wallerstorfer, in the broadcast you talked about the field of nutrigenetics. What can be understood by it?

“Nutrigenetics is the study of how genes interact with specific food ingredients. Every person is unique because of their genes and also reacts differently to certain foods. This young field of research is called nutrigenetics and promises the ability to use genes to read which foods are tolerated and which are not.”

In the broadcast, nutrigenetics was presented as the thing of the future. What will it look like in the future?

“Here, unfortunately, I have to destroy some of the magic in advance. It sounds like science fiction and technologies of the future, but nutrigenetics is already ubiquitous and part of our everyday lives. As early as the 1960s, nutrigenetic analysis of every baby began immediately after birth in Germany. Namely, to the disease phenylketonuria. This is a congenital genetic disorder in which a gene defect prevents the breakdown of a certain food component (the amino acid phenylalanine). If the disease is not properly recognized and the diet adapted accordingly, physical and mental disability will result. That’s why for the past 50 years, every baby has been tested for this disease so that immediate intervention can be taken.

Lactose intolerance was also discussed. This is a genetic disorder. Those who eat a lactose-free diet because of symptoms are eating according to their genes. After all, that’s 18 million people in Germany.

Gluten intolerance is also a genetic disorder. It can only occur when a person carries certain genes. If one does not have this, the probability of developing gluten intolerance is close to zero.

Nutrigenetic nutrition, or nutrition based on individual genetics, has long been a part of our lives and is not a pipe dream.”

Do you carry the genes for gluten intolerance?

“No, so I won’t get it in my lifetime either. I am also an asymptomatic carrier for lactose intolerance. So I will be able to drink milk all my life, but my children might inherit the disease from me.”

You said on the show that you have already tested yourself. What kind of information did you get from that?

“Quite a lot. For one, I know that my phase 1 detoxification enzymes are not working properly. These genes are responsible for detoxifying everything that is burned – that is, carcinogenic substances. If I smoked (which I don’t) I would have a 3.4 times higher risk of lung cancer than some other people.

Also, my phase two detox genes are not functioning properly. These are responsible for detoxifying heavy metals such as cadmium, lead and mercury but also herbicides and pesticides, anything you spray on food crops to keep pests away. This means I should, for one, reduce heavy metal-laden foods such as large marine fish and shellfish, and eat a diet rich in various heavy metal-binding minerals such as calcium, zinc and selenium. Since my body can’t detoxify weed and insecticide properly, I should pay attention to BIO food.

I have poor cholesterol levels due to genetics. Normally, omega-3 (fish oil) capsules would be recommended, but that has the opposite effect on me because of my genetics. It would make my cholesterol levels worse. I take phytosterols instead. As I mentioned on the show, I also have a 3.2 -fold risk of Alzheimer’s due to my genetics. In addition to other preventative measures, you can make a difference in your diet. Studies have shown that foods rich in antioxidants significantly reduce the likelihood of the disease occurring. In particular, 2-5 cups of coffee per day reduces the risk by about 60%.”

But coffee also has its downsides?

“Right, because coffee is a great example of a food that people react to very differently. For one thing, coffee is one of the healthiest foods we know. No other food has such a high concentration of antioxidants and other healthy substances. However, coffee also contains potentially harmful caffeine. Caffeine has the potential to increase various disease risks such as cardiovascular disease and osteoporosis. Humans have a specific gene, the CYP1A2 gene, which is responsible for recognizing and degrading caffeine. Of Germans, about 52% have functioning versions of this gene and thus can rapidly break down harmful caffeine. From studies of women who drink 2-5 cups of coffee per day, for example, we know that breast cancer occurs on average seven years later in them than in women who do not drink coffee. Coffee therefore has a clear protective factor against the development of breast cancer. But this effect was only visible in women who had functioning versions of the caffeine-degrading gene. If this gene did not function properly, the development of breast cancer was normal despite coffee consumption. The protective effect of coffee can therefore only develop if the body is able to rapidly break down the harmful caffeine. Now the question arises: should a person be recommended to drink coffee? For 52% with functioning genes, the answer is a resounding yes. For the 48% with impaired gene function, it increases cardiovascular and other disease risks. So rather no. Consequently, there is no single recommendation that is valid for everyone.”

On the show, you also talked about histamine intolerance.

“Histamine intolerance is basically a breakdown disorder of histamine. This substance is found in many foods and unfortunately evolution thought it would be a good idea to use histamine in the body as a messenger for inflammatory reactions. So our immune system uses self-produced histamine to trigger inflammation. So to avoid false signals here, the histamine found in food must be broken down before it is absorbed into the body. There are two special protective mechanisms for this. The first protective mechanism is provided by the DAO gene. It produces a histamine-degrading enzyme that is injected into the intestine, where it renders most of the histamine harmless. If histamine nevertheless enters the body, there is the HNMT gene, which recognizes histamine there and breaks it down. We already know that certain gene variations or gene defects in the DAO gene can lead either to very low production of this enzyme or to the production of defective enzymes. We now know that about 50% of histamine-intolerant people have low levels of DAO. So such gene variations are a clear risk factor, but genetics is not the only factor here. Our lab is itself researching whether gene variations in the second gene (HNMT) may also trigger histamine intolerance symptoms.”

On the show, one guest said that he would not get genetically tested.

“I’m afraid I’ll have to disappoint him on that one. He had his first nutrigenetic analysis for the disease PKU shortly after his birth. His children will also be nutrigenetically tested without him being asked for permission. This has been standard procedure for decades and helps prevent physical and mental disabilities through adapted nutrition. Everyone in the round of guests, except for Mr. Schuhbeck, had already undergone the first nutrigenetic analysis shortly after his birth.

Most critics are unaware of all that is actually nutrigenetic nutrition. They think it’s an extensive genetic analysis that provides extremely detailed information about certain nutrients that we might be able to do on ourselves in 20 years. They don’t realize that the most common food intolerances, such as lactose or gluten intolerance, fall right into this category.

The attitude, “I don’t want to know,” is seen mainly in healthy people. A person who ignorantly suffers from genetic gluten intolerance and, like most affected people, lives 10 years without a proper diagnosis, usually wants to know as much about the cause as possible.”

It was also expressed that there are not enough studies on this yet.

“The argument, “It’s too early and there aren’t enough studies yet,” is as old as the time when it was actually still true. That was about the state of knowledge around 1995-2000. In 2001, we (and by we I mean scientists) completed the Human Genome Project. This means that for the first time we have read out the entire genetic code of a human being and made it public. This opened the gates to an incredible amount of science in the field of genetics, and an entirely new field of research, nutrigenetics, was launched. Two years later, we already discovered the genetic cause for lactose intolerance and shortly thereafter the genetic cause for gluten intolerance also followed.

Today, the subject of nutrigenetics is taught in every major university (Harvard, Toronto, California, Manchester)and also in the major German universities. The number of publications on gene variations is also growing exponentially. Today, we already have over 300,000 publications in our database that have studied the effects of common genetic defects. We already know the medical impact of over 80,000 different gene variations and, for example, for just one gene variation in the COMT gene, we already have over 300 studies. Just for comparison, in medical genetics they say that if you have 3 large studies that have investigated and proven the same thing, it is considered scientifically confirmed. In the case of the COMT gene, we have over 300. The time when you could claim that we didn’t have enough studies on this is long gone. Do we already know everything about genetics? Not by a long shot. But we do know a great deal about some things.”

Then why are there still people who claim there is not enough science on this?

“I think it has to do with the rapid advancement in the field. You have to remember that anyone who went to university before 2000 learned practically nothing about this field. If you don’t stay on the ball, you quickly lose track of the current state of science. I am sure that these people are not aware that there are over 300 studies on some gene variations.”

So nutrigenetics is already present. What else will the future bring?

“For one thing, much more is already possible today than is actually applied. The most comprehensive nutrigenetics programs already analyze more than 50 genes and provide very precise recommendations on nutrition. For one thing, I think that this number of genes that influence how we react to certain foods is going to steadily increase. Our statements are thus becoming better and more accurate. At the moment, the field of preventive and nutrigenetics is experiencing tremendous growth. Our laboratory alone (and there are over 1000 laboratories worldwide) has performed over 200,000 such analyses, and the number is growing. Of course, it’s not like the application of nutrigenetics has reached every doctor’s office and nutritionist yet – but the progressive ones are already applying it.

I think and hope that insurance companies will start to cover the cost of analysis and prevention. At the moment it is still a private service, but such technologies should be made available to everyone in order to preserve their health in the best possible way. I think that in 20 years we will analyze the entire genome of every baby at government expense right after birth. Our lab can already detect 111 different diseases right after birth, but there’s a lot more potential there. Already at the time of birth will be clear which foods are suitable for the children. This gives parents the opportunity to educate children to this effect because, “Mom’s cooking always tastes best!”

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