Genomics and Vegan Diet: Case Study
Sarah was excited to be starting her next adventure -living and working on a tropical island. What could be better than to be surrounded by beautiful beaches and soaking up the sun!
A few months before her move, she had decided to shift from being a vegetarian to going completely vegan. She avoided using animals for her food, clothing, and all other needs.
Having been a science major in college, she knew the important of nutrition. She researched the common pitfalls of a vegan diet, and so knew to supplement with vitamin B12 – a critical vitamin not found in plants, and a common deficiency among vegans who did not supplement.
Her job as a dive instructor meant she was outside all the time, and kept her physically fit. Although she was very conscious of eating a varied diet, she decided to take a multivitamin along with her B12 – just to be sure she was getting everything she needed.
For the first few months, everything was great and she was really enjoying her life. But then things slowly started to change.
First she noticed a rash. It was itchy, and seemed to come and go. None of the creams she tried seemed to help. But, being busy, she didn’t really think much of it beyond the annoyance.
Then, she started noticing her stamina was diminishing, and she would often find herself without energy after a day at work. Along with this, she felt her brain was often foggy and focusing was sometimes a challenge. When her mood starting changing, she thought it she was just tired and that was making her cranky.
When it started affecting her work, though, she decided she needed to take action.
What we found surprised her. But all she needed was a few simple tweaks, keeping in line with her vegan lifestyle.
This is what we found by looking at her genes, and what we did to compensate:
Problem #1: She is unable to convert plant-based sources of omega 3 fatty acids to EPA and DHA.
EPA is critical for proper immune system functioning and is the main source of DHA – necessary for brain power. Deficiencies caused by her gene SNPs were contributing to her fatigue, skin rashes, and brain fog.
Solution: Algae-based EPA/DHA supplement
Problem #2: She is unable to convert sunlight into Vitamin D.
This “vitamin” is actually a hormone, responsible for communicating with over 1000 genes responsible for a wide variety of biological functions – including our immune system and brain function. Deficiency caused by her multiple gene SNPs was contributing to her fatigue, skin rashes, low mood and even brain fog.
Solution: Vitamin D3/K emulsion supplement
Problem #3: She is unable to convert beta carotene to the active form of vitamin A (retinol).
This active form of vitamin A is found only in animal sources, and is not only an important co-factor for many of our biological systems, it is also needed for many genes to be activated. Deficiency caused by her gene SNPs was contributing to her skin rash, fatigue and low mood.
Solution: Retinyl palmitate supplement
Problem #4: She is unable to convert ubiquinone (CoQ10) to its active form, ubiquinol. This is a key antioxidant and important nutrient for our mitochondria to function properly. While we can produce our own CoQ10, this process was impaired by her SNPs. But on top of that, her SNPs also meant she couldn’t convert it to the active form. Deficiency caused by her gene SNPs was contributing to her fatigue, brain fog and her rash.
Solution: Ubiquinol supplement
Problem #5: She is unable to efficiently methylate and transport folate into cells.
Folate is an important B vitamin that not only helps enzymes to function, it also is part of multiple other biochemical pathways that generate methyl groups for biochemical reactions in every system in the body – especially dealing with stress – and including epigenetics. Deficiency caused by her gene SNPs was contributing to her fatigue, rash, brain fog and low mood.
Solution: Methylfolate supplement
Within a week of starting her new supplements, she felt like a new person. She never knew that her DNA would have the answers!
Grateful for having a solution that gave her her life back, she saw the big gap in knowledge about how to be healthy on a vegan diet. Just because some people thrived, she understood we are each unique. Some people (like her) needed extra support because of their genes.
Excited about the ability to help other vegans avoid sacrificing their health for their beliefs, she started educating other vegans in her community about the need to go beyond vitamin B12 in creating healthy diets – and the power of a DNA-based approach to personalized nutrition.
Learn more about creating personalized nutrition plans with Introduction to Nutrigenomics . For more advanced learning, check out Biochemistry: The Bridge Between Genomic and Functional Nutrition, or enroll in our Genomic Medicine Certification Course.