In the age of social media, it can be tremendously difficult to not get overwhelmed by the breadth of information and testimonials on products, treatments or routines that individuals claim have changed their lives, transformed their appearance or any other array of striking admissions. Though first-hand accounts of products, supplements or habits that have worked for certain individuals can be helpful, it can also become frustrating when we don’t see the same effects on our own, especially when it comes to supplements or health-related issues. As someone who has personally tried an array of different vitamins and supplements hoping for life-changing results to no avail, I was curious to know how my inherent genetic make up could be impacting the effectivity of vitamins and supplements in my life. Luckily, several of our most trusted health and wellness experts were able to answer all my questions about vitamins and genes and provide and in-depth look into how our genes play a role in vitamin usage.
“The way I see it, there are three main aspects of the behavior and make up of genes that consumers should understand,” begins healthcare synergist and CEO of ChangeWell Inc, Mark Tager, MD. “Our genes determine our ability to absorb, transport, and metabolize nutrients in the body. What many people don’t know is that individuals can experience different variations amongst the SNP’s—single nucleotide polymorphisms—that are impactful in our bodies. Understanding how our genes are affecting the transportation, absorption or metabolization of vitamins and minerals in our system can help to guide us into determining whether or not we need more of a certain type of nutrient.” Founder of Kamalaya Wellness Sanctuary & Holistic Spa and renowned holistic healer, Karina Stewart, reiterates and builds upon this idea in explaining that “sometimes, our own digestive system is not absorbing well and we need support not only with digestion, but with the nutrients we may have become deficient in through the years through poor lifestyle choices—like consuming lots of overly refined foods. The worst way to use a supplement is through a full-shot approach where we follow trends and consumer supplements, taking them because we hear about all the benefits before finding out if we need them.”
Dr. Tager goes on to breakdown how exactly these variations impact vitamin retention and efficacy by addressing common genetic variations and issues associated with some of the most common vitamins. “Let’s start with vitamin C. If you give two people the same amount of vitamin C and measure the amount in their bloodstream, it’s going to be different because people process vitamin C from their diet differently—this is the absorption aspect. There’s a vitamin C absorption and processing gene called GSTT1, and people who have variations in that gene will absorb different amounts of the vitamin in their bloodstream.” Essentially, depending on the type of GSTT1 variation one has, the body will be able to retain more or less vitamin C upon consumption through diet, supplements etc.
“Once the vitamin C has entered the bloodstream,” he continues, “there is a transporter gene that is responsible for recycling and reusing the vitamin C content throughout the body.” In terms of understanding why certain people find success with products very low in vitamin C content, for example, while others do not, Dr. Tager emphasizes that the variations in our genes play a huge role in how much of a nutrient we need to reap its benefits. “About 20-50 percent of the population have a version of the GSTT1 gene that makes it very difficult to process this reaction,” he explains. “These individuals need higher requirements of vitamin C to optimize their blood levels, feed the skin cells and more.”
Another keen example of how our genes can impact our retention of nutrients comes in the form of variations on the MTHFR gene. “MTHFR is particularly important in metabolizing synthetic forms of folate—which is important in red blood cell formation and healthy cell growth—and about 40 percent of people have a mutation on this gene which means they aren’t converting the folate into the body well. As a result, these individuals would need more concentration of folate-containing nutrients and supplements in order to process it most optimally.” Board-certified holistic nutritionist, Jennifer Hanway, adds that “variations in the MTFHT gene could lead to high levels of homocysteine and low levels of folate and among other vitamins. Possible supplement interventions include taking 5-MTHF folate—the active form of folate—and other methylated B vitamins to counteract the low processing levels.”
As cliche as it may sound, if we’ve learned anything from the wise words of our wellness experts, it’s that what’s on the inside truly is what counts. For those of us looking to maintain or improve our health through vitamins and supplements, consulting with healthcare professionals and getting the necessary genetic testing and bloodwork to determine your own individual gene variations and vitamin levels is key to making smart decisions. Though it’s easy to click “add to cart” on any and all of the latest beauty, health and wellness supplements, Dr. Tager, Hanway and Stewart would all agree that it is more important to learn about your own, individual genetic makeup than to take advice from people on the internet who’s internal structure could be vastly different from your own. As humans, we are all unique in every sense of the word, and now, we can go forward into our supplement and wellness journeys honoring the sentiment and knowing that keeping it in mind will guide us in the right direction.