COVID-19 has caught everyone by surprise. There’s no vaccine or defense, other than the one offered by nature right now – your immune system. The world is worried about their health. Knowing how your immune system works at a genetic level may give you some answers you need to improve your odds of recovering from or even avoiding being infected with a virus like COVID-19.
Dr. Yael Joffe, is the Chief Science Officer at 3X4 Genetics. She says COVID-19 can be damaging and may be fatal. The virus triggers the host’s immune system and causes the body to react. Understanding your genes can help. Here’s what you need to know.
Understanding your immune response
“The problem is that this immune response, in certain cases, can overreact. In order to kill the virus, the immune system floods the body with its in-built cellular defense system. However, when left unchecked the response may cause damage to your own cells, and with COVID-19, particularly the cells in your respiratory system. This being said, these responses differ widely amongst individuals. Partly because of how their genes respond.”
Knowing your genes can help
Knowing how prepared your immune system is to defend yourself against the virus is a must. You’re gifted with a complex immune system, or cellular defense mechanisms. It springs into action when a toxin or pathogen (viruses and bacteria) overwhelms the body. Dr. Joffe explains: “The way these mechanisms act can differ from person-to-person because of your genes. By taking a genetic test you will then be able to tell how ready your immune system is, and whether your cellular defense processes work optimally.
Switch On Your Genes
Genes are switches. When a protein or enzyme is needed by the body, the gene is switched on to make that protein. This is true for how the cellular defense system responds.
A number of genes switch on when the virus is detected to mobilize against it and switch off when the virus is killed off and flushed out. “The problem with a virus-like COVID-19 is that the response is so powerful, cellular defense mechanisms like inflammation and oxidative stress are turned up so high that the body can be flooded and overwhelmed by the defense mechanisms themselves, causing damage to the cells. How efficiently these ‘on’ and ‘off’ processes work differs between individuals. It’s partly due to their own genetic makeup. Once you know how optimally your cellular defense processes are working, you can understand better how resilient your immune system is. Then you can take steps to address shortfall.”
Nutrition is the next step
Dr. Christine Houghton, Founder and Chief Science Officer at Cell-Logic is an expert on the relationship of genes with nutrition. She says knowing more about your genes can help your healthcare practitioner make positive changes through nutrition to improve and optimize these metabolic processes.
“While many will be reaching for mega doses of supplements, your system is unique, nuanced, and very complex. A single nutrient like vitamin C, by itself, is nothing compared to the many small, calculated tweaks required at a molecular level to have your immune system work at its prime.
Your body’s core cellular defense processes such as inflammation, oxidative stress, detoxification, and methylation are required to fight off COVID-19. They are activated and switched off via genes. ‘Their reaction time and how efficiently they respond can be adjusted using a personalized, wholesome, and healthy diet, together with targeted nutrigenomic supplements.”
Gene Master Switch
Nuclear factor erythroid 2-related factor 2 (Nrf2) is a master switch that is responsible for switching on (and off) hundreds of genes involved in cellular defense. It responds to the presence of any pro-oxidant molecule in the body that then activates many of the genes involved in the cellular defense processes. If it switches on quickly, you can flush the coronavirus out better. Although there are Ts and Cs to this process. Complications can occur with underlying chronic health conditions.
Optimize your immune system through active molecules
Houghton says that “one way in which we can optimize the function of Nrf2s is by the ingestion of a nutrigenomically active molecule called Sulforaphane. The precursor to Sulforaphane is found abundantly in raw, calciferous vegetables such as broccoli, broccoli sprouts, cauliflower, and cabbage. Unfortunately, it’s destroyed during cooking, and a quality broccoli sprout supplement may be required.”
As there are many variables, it is important to consult a specialist who can help you prepare your immune system to be strong and resilient. This is especially true in times when there is an unchecked virus on the loose.
Can I prepare my immune system now?
Can you prepare your immune system now? Dr. Joffe says the short answer is – yes. You can start to optimize your immune system response for COVID-19-like threats through a tailored nutrigenomic dietary plan.
“Make an appointment with an accredited nutrigenomic health practitioner and get a nutrigenetic test done to learn about the variability of your genes and your response to diet and lifestyle choices. This will inform them what cellular processes require the most attention. They will then recommend a nutrigenomic plan. They will also let you know what foods to eat to bolster your immune system to fight off a virus. This might also require some nutrigenomic supplements which mimic and optimize natural processes in your body.”
The Bottom Line
Having a healthy immune system supported by an optimally functioning cellular defense mechanism could not only give you the edge in the fight against COVID-19, but will help you live a better, healthier, and longer life.
About the Specialist
Dr. Yael Joffe PhD RD FACN
As a dietitian who was both disappointed and disillusioned with the dietetics profession, Dr. Joffe was fortunate enough to start working in the field of nutrigenomics in 2000. She obtained my PhD from the University of Cape Town. She explored the genetics and nutrition of obesity in South African women. Today Dr. Joffe regularly speaks at conferences and workshops. She was also part of the team that built the first Nutrigenomic genetic test in 2000 in the United Kingdom. This was three years before the mapping of the human genome.
Dr. Joffe co-authored It’s Not Just Your Genes, The SNP Journal, and Genes to Plate. The first gene-based recipe book. She has also published in peer-reviewed journals and been involved in the development and supervision of nutrigenomics courses around the world. Dr. Joffe is currently an Adjunct Professor, teaching Nutrigenomics at Rutgers University and at Maryland University of Integrative Health. She went on to establish Manuka Science in 2014, an online Translational Nutrigenomics training course for health practitioners. More recently she launched the 3X4 Clinic in Cape Town, and 3X4 Genetics. The company brings together expert nutrigenomic practitioners with the best genetic test and user experience. When not working to disrupt health care, she seeks equal parts discomfort and inspiration in open water swimming.
Dr. Christine Houghton PhD, B.Sc.(Biochem.), Grad.Dip.Hum.Nutr., R.Nutr.
Dr. Christine Houghton Founder Director – Senior Scientist Cell Logic has enjoyed a fulfilling and varied career in Nutritional Medicine spanning more than 30 years. Her work continues to stay at the forefront of this rapidly evolving profession. As a clinician, author, and educator, she is dedicated to promoting a model of health care that closely reflects diet and lifestyle choices. She holds a BSc in Biochemistry from The University of Queensland. As well as a Graduate Diploma in Human Nutrition from Deakin University in Victoria. Dr. Houghton is an Adjunct Lecturer in the School of Human Movement and Nutrition Science at The University of Queensland.
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