What is nutrigenomics?
Simply put, nutrigenomics is the study of how foods impact our genes, and how genetic variations influence the way we respond to nutrients. Nutrigenomics looks at how what we eat affects our genes’ activity, like what proteins they produce according to our DNA. It is an emerging science with potential to show how we may be able to prevent disease through nutrition. However, it will take time for scientists to determine what genes and gene expressions need to be concentrated on so that positive health outcomes can be achieved.
Also, within genetic subgroups, it is vital to trial whether personalised interventions result in the expected outcome. It is also imperative that this nutritional approach is integrated into the training of general practitioners, dieticians and nutritionists. There are ethical issues involved with nutrigenomics as well. Who should have access to nutrigenomics — should insurance companies cover testing, or is it only available to those who can pay for it?
And what happens if someone is found to have a genetic susceptibility such as a higher risk of developing Alzheimer’s? Such information can lead to emotional distress and some people may not be ready to hear such information. Working with a genetic counsellor is highly recommended, when looking at your risk of medical conditions.
Benefits of Nutrigenomics
The implications for preventing obesity with nutrigenomics is huge, and one study (1) looked at how nutrigenomics can be used for weight loss. The researchers used 24 variants in 19 genes related to metabolism to design a personalised, calorie-controlled diet. They used this plan for 50 individuals who were also given exercise advice most appropriate for their genotype. A control group of 43 people was given standard, “one-size-fits all” diet and exercise advice. After 300 days, those in the personalised group were likelier to have reduced their body weight and maintained that weight loss. They also lost more body weight than the control group, experienced longer-term reduction in their BMI and witnessed improvement in their blood glucose levels.
Nutrition guidelines are generally based on large studies, and whilst they work for some individuals, they don’t work for everyone. That’s why some weight loss plans work brilliantly for your friend, but not for you. By adopting nutrigenomics, people will get more of an understanding how the foods they eat impact their bodies. By having access to your genetic information, a nutritionist or dietician can create a unique nutrition plan, which is personalised just for you.
We all respond to foods differently, and we metabolise nutrients differently as well. By adopting nutrigenomics, medications will be personalised, too by pharmacogenetics and pharmogenomics. At present, most GPs and doctors don’t know whether a medication will cause an adverse drug reaction in an individual until it actually occurs. But with pharmacogenetics and pharmogenomics, medical practitioners, will be better placed to determine the effects of a particular medication without having to wait until an adverse reaction occurs.
Nutrigenomics is already transforming how we eat and the days of a one-size-fits-all diet are no longer. Nutrigenomics helps us understand how our genes and what we eat are associated, and what that means, ultimately, for our health.