What is the exposome and what is its impact on health?

Health is a complex concept in which it is clear that multiple factors of various kinds have an influence. Some of them are relatively easy to modify; in others our capacity to influence is minimal or null; and others are practically static. As we have told you on many occasions, your DNA does not change throughout your life, you cannot influence it to improve your quality of life, but you can modify other environmental factors, which also have a great impact on your health and well-being.


What is the exposome?

The influence of genetics on our health has been taken into account for decades, but recently a new scientific concept has been coined, known as the exposome, which is described as the set of environmental sources to which we are exposed every day, and which have an enormous impact on our organism from conception to the end of life [1, 2]).

It has been observed that almost 50% of deaths worldwide are related to prolonged exposure to certain substances such as alcohol, tobacco or carcinogenic particles present in the air.


Components of the exposome

There are different types of classifications of the exposome, depending on the source consulted, but we have chosen a simple one, since the aim of this publication is to make it easy for you to understand one main idea: your health and well-being depend, of course, on your DNA, but also on external factors and on yourself. We could say that there are two main types of exposome, which we explain below.


External exposure: 

These are factors that the person cannot modulate or whose ability to modulate them is minimal, such as climate, noise, traffic, air pollution or light.


Internal or personal exposome: 

This encompasses components such as physical activity, diet, the chemicals to which we are exposed, such as tobacco, or even psychosocial aspects, such as the impact of social relationships or the individual’s socioeconomic position. These are the factors that we can totally modulate or at least have a fairly broad capacity to influence.


How does the exposome influence us?

Both the internal and external exposome influence our body’s biological responses such as the gut, oral or skin microbiome, inflammation, stress or epigenetics [3]. These biological responses, in turn, are also in some way influencing factors with respect to our health and well-being.

exposomaSource: https://www.isglobal.org/-/el-exposoma-comprendiendo-el-efecto-del-entorno-en-nuestra-salud

Importance of the exposome

It is important to know that these factors do not impact our organism in isolation, but that there are interactions between different components that can have a greater impact on our health.

What is clearly a consolidated fact currently accepted by the scientific community, unlike what was believed years ago, is that our well-being does not depend solely on genetics, but that we are interconnected with our environment. That is, while genetics plays a fundamental role in the predisposition to certain conditions or diseases, the exposome is capable, in many cases, of determining whether or not these predispositions manifest themselves in each individual. This helps us to understand why some diseases are more common in certain groups of people or in different geographical areas.

Several studies have revealed interesting connections between environmental exposures and diseases such as cancer, heart disease, diabetes and some neurological disorders. These findings challenge the outdated idea that health is exclusively determined by our genes, opening up new avenues for the prevention and treatment of many diseases.


Investigation of the exposome

To study this new concept, researchers carry out different methods including the following [4], [5]:

  • Sample collection and measurement: different components of the environment are sampled, such as food, water, soil, air or chemicals, which can be found in certain work environments.
  • Omics technologies: genomics, transcriptomics, proteomics and metabolomics are used to analyze how environmental exposures affect gene expression, proteins and metabolites present in our body.
  • Bioinformatics analysis: allows the identification of patterns and associations between environmental exposures and health outcomes through data generated by omics technologies.
  • Study cohorts: this involves following groups of individuals over time to assess their environmental exposures and health over their lifetimes. This makes it possible to identify possible correlations between exposures and health outcomes over time.
  • Modeling and simulation: allow prediction of how environmental exposures may interact with genetic factors and contribute to disease risk in population groups.
  • Integrated approaches: seek to synergize data from multiple sources, such as genetic information, environmental data and medical records, to obtain a more complete picture of how environmental exposures impact health.

Thanks to the knowledge we have today about genetics and environmental factors, personalized medicine can be carried out, which consists of focusing each person’s treatment on his or her individual characteristics and needs.


Challenges in the study of the exposome

Ethics and data protection

When studying the exposome, certain issues that may cross the ethical boundary must be taken into account. For example, the aforementioned methods may involve the collection of personal information, such as the medical history or life habits of each person, so, in order to carry out a good practice, it is necessary that this is done through informed consent and that the privacy of the people studied is protected so that the data is not misused.

Another of the great challenges in relation to the exposome is the use of the data obtained, since, on many occasions, this information may not be used exclusively for research, but may also be used to commercialize data related to the health of each individual, which is why it is necessary to establish a series of ethical standards to ensure responsible use of the data.

Inequality between populations

On the other hand, there is a risk that some populations with lower incomes, or some minorities, are exposed to greater environmental risks while having less access to knowledge of the exposome. Therefore, there must be equality between different population groups.

Data integration

Finally, the biggest challenge is the integration and analysis of data, since multiple factors, both environmental and biological, are involved in the study of the exposome, which must be correctly analyzed and grouped together by scientists, politicians and society in general in order to achieve a significant impact with the data obtained [4].


24Genetics and the exposome study

Taking into account that the exposome encompasses a series of environmental factors that can be modified, habits can be improved to lead a healthier life with less exposure to substances that are highly harmful to our body. So, although the 24Genetics tests show predisposition to certain diseases and traits, the truth is that they are not determining results, but rather that you may never develop a disease for which you have a higher genetic risk than the rest of the population because you lead a healthy lifestyle. This fact allows us to see how our daily choices intertwine to generate an impact on our state of health and well-being.

At the same time, the opposite effect may occur, i.e., we may not be genetically predisposed to certain traits, but having a series of bad habits may enhance the appearance of pathologies.

This does not detract one iota of value from the information obtained through a preventive genetic test, since it allows us to know which areas of our health or well-being we should perhaps pay more attention to and act in two main and different ways:

  • Deepen the study of these predispositions, depending on the type of pathology, family history, etc., always under the supervision of a physician or health professional.
    To prevent, modulating or changing those factors of the exposome to which we have access, changing life habits, work environment, place of residence, etc…
  • One of the objectives of the study of genetics is to go to doctors to avoid contracting or developing diseases, instead of going when we already have to cure them.

Therefore, from 24Genetics we encourage you to take care of your personal wellbeing and lead a healthy life to prevent possible diseases for which you may have a greater predisposition.



[1] Vicente-Herrero, M.a T. et al. (no date) Exposoma: Un Nuevo Concepto en salud laboral y salud pública, Revista de la Asociación Española de Especialistas en Medicina del Trabajo. Available at: https://scielo.isciii.es/scielo.php?script=sci_arttext&pid=S1132-62552016000300008 (Accessed: 09 August 2023). 

[2] AK;, B.N.M. (no date) EXPOSOMAL research in the context of birth cohorts: What have they taught us?, Annals of allergy, asthma & immunology : official publication of the American College of Allergy, Asthma, & Immunology. Available at: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/32927048/ (Accessed: 09 August 2023). 

[3] El Exposoma: Comprendiendo El Efecto del Entorno en Nuestra Salud (2020) ISGlobal. Available at: https://www.isglobal.org/-/el-exposoma-comprendiendo-el-efecto-del-entorno-en-nuestra-salud (Accessed: 09 August 2023). 

[4] Buck Louis, G.M., Smarr, M.M. and Patel, C.J. (2017) The Exposome Research Paradigm: An opportunity to understand the environmental basis for human health and disease, Current environmental health reports. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5363405/ (Accessed: 09 August 2023). 

[5] Maitre, L. et al. (2022) Multi-omics signatures of the human early life exposome, Nature News. Available at: https://www.nature.com/articles/s41467-022-34422-2 (Accessed: 09 August 2023). 


Written by Debora Pino García


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