Your Genetics and the Thanksgiving Meal

Thanksgiving DNA
Your unique DNA influences not only how your prefer your turkey, but also how your body breaks it down after consumption.

A few weeks ago, we shared with you how your decisions around your food intake can be determined by your genetics.  So in the nature of food and genetics, starting this week, kitchens around the country will smell of crescent rolls, green bean casserole, garlic mashed potatoes, and no doubt turkey with all the classics. All of those smells will soon be included in the taste of the dinner, but how did all of those tastes and smells you experience come about? Well…they have been in the works for millennia. Over the last few thousand years, through evolution, your body has inherited genetic information, DNA, that allows your to smell and taste specific scents and flavors, break down certain foods, and distribute the healthy (and not so healthy) ingredients throughout your body.

So, let’s explore how your genes influence your meal experience as well as take a look at specific genes!

Genetics and Taste 

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Every year,  least one family member doesn’t recall the fact I do not like stuffing. They seem astounded that I do not enjoy the taste of stuffing, while it is one of their favorite side dishes. This difference is perception of taste is due to genetic variations. Over time, we have been equipped with numerous taste receptors, these receptors are specialized proteins that detect specific groups of molecules in our food. These proteins help send signals to our brain which in turn help us know if the substance is bitter, savory, sweet, sour, or salty.

The range of sensitivity to specific flavors can be affected by specific differences in the DNA sequence. For example, people who have inherited a different code for the taste receptor TAS2R38, experience bitterness different from others. This receptor causes people to have an exceptionally sensitive reaction to bitter molecular compounds. So, that bottle of red wine may not please everyone at the table. Like bitterness, sweet taste receptors also have a genetic component, so that’s why grandma may add a lil extra sugar to that pumpkin pie.

It’s all about the Turkey

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How do your genetics affect the star of the show, aside from how you taste it (I’m a dark meat fan)? After you’ve had your fill of turkey, your body starts to break that turkey down in the digestion process. A closer look at your genetics tells a story of how your body processes the turkey. Let’s start with the absorption of nutrients. Meats like turkey are rich in iron, which the body uses to help transport and store oxygen. By incorporating iron into protein structures called hemoglobin, the body can grab oxygen from the lungs and carry it throughout the body. Within muscles, oxygen is stored in a protein called myoglobin, which also contains iron (that’s why meat is a good source of iron). Some people are more prone to having higher or lower relative iron levels due to alterations in the TMPRSS6 gene. This gene is involved in iron absorption and storage within the body by regulating an important hormone that helps control iron levels.

Speaking of red wine

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We explained earlier why everyone at the table may not enjoy the taste of the red wine. Regardless of taste preferences, however,  your genetics explain why your Aunt Molly is slurring her words after one glass. That’s right, genetics influence how alcohol is metabolized and the time associated with that aforementioned metabolization. Alcohol is broken down in two big steps. The first step uses ADH1C to convert alcohol into a compound that’s known to be toxic (acetaldehyde) and may be the reason people experience facial flushing, dizziness, and nausea when drinking it. This intermediate product is then converted to a molecule that’s more tolerable to the body (acetate) by ALDH2. Naturally, differences in genetic makeup for these genes can affect a person’s response to alcoholic drinks like wine.

Postprandial Somnolence

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I just found out that the post meal nap, itits, or food coma, has an actual scientific name postprandial somnolence. Very cool. So, juuuusstttt going to rest my eyes for a second, besides no one wants to watch the Lions go 0-10-1. Similar to the Lion’s actually winning a game, a myth,  is commonly associated with the post meal nap. That myth blames the turkey for your post meal sleepiness, but tryptophan is not the reason many people feel sleepy after the meal. While it is true that high doses of tryptophan can cause sleepiness, the amount in your turkey serving is simply not high enough to be the culprit. Furthermore, the amount of tryptophan in turkey does not differ significantly from other meats. So, why then, do you feel tired? A kin to most things in life, the reason for post meal tiredness is a myriad of factors. But most of us feel tired because you’ve simply consumed a large amount of food in a relatively short time. However, this is only one of the factors. Almost every organism has an internal biological clock which helps balance the daily rhythms of sleepiness and wakefulness. Although sleep preferences are heavily influenced by a person’s environment, genetics may also play a role in determining your sleep patterns. Certain variations in the DNA may affect when you prefer to fall asleep.

Genetics are more than preferences, they can be influence your health too

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Routine Cardiac Genetic Testing

Genetics are more than taste preferences and quirky traits, learning about them can have an impact on your overall health and wellness. Find out how Vita Medical Solutions is facilitating the future of medicine with genetic testing!

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Test. Know. Educate. Advocate.

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