Individuals with chronic illnesses and athletes seeking to optimize their performance are particularly attracted to the emerging nutrigenomics market. However, some doctors are unsure about the scientific basis of nutrigenomic testing as there is still limited research.
Nutrigenomics is the study of how genes interact with food and influence the unique way that each person metabolizes vitamins, minerals, and other compounds in what they eat. This scientific area considers that everyone absorbs, breaks down, and processes chemicals differently based on their DNA. Nutrigenomics helps to decode this personal blueprint. Companies offering this service emphasize the importance of being able to choose the best products and services that can fulfill a person’s health objectives. This advantage is crucial as multiple diets and an abundance of experts offer varying viewpoints.
Genetics plays a role in how the body responds to food. The National Library of Medicine published a study of 1,000 individuals, half of the participants being twins, showing some exciting links between genes and nutrients. It was highlighted that blood-sugar levels were most influenced by the meal’s macronutrient composition (protein, fat, and carbohydrates), and gut bacteria significantly impacted blood-lipid (fat) levels. However, genetics may affect blood sugar levels more than lipids, although it is less significant than meal preparation. Some dieticians believe nutrigenomics can help support personalized nutrition or recommendations based on genome sequencing. This method may be better than most doctors’ one-size-fits-all advice to patients.
Several companies, like US-based Nutrition Genome, are offering DNA test kits that suggest how individuals can optimize their food intake and lifestyle. Customers can order kits online (prices start at $359 USD), and they usually take four days to be delivered. Customers can take swab samples and send them back to the provider’s lab. The sample is then extracted and genotyped. Once the results have been uploaded to the client’s private dashboard on the DNA test company’s app, the client will receive an email notification. The analysis usually includes genetic baseline levels of dopamine and adrenaline that inform customers of their optimized work environment, coffee or tea intake, or vitamin requirements. Other information provided stress and cognitive performance, toxin sensitivity, and drug metabolism.
While the nutrigenomics market is small, there have been increasing research attempts to prove its legitimacy. According to the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, nutrigenomics studies lack standardized approaches and hamper consistent quality control when designing and conducting research. However, progress has been made, such as developing a set of criteria for validating Food Intake Biomarkers within the FoodBall consortium (composed of 11 countries). Further development of standards and analysis pipelines should ensure that interpretations are consistent with an understanding of how food affects human metabolism. Nonetheless, national health departments are taking note of the potential of nutrigenomics for better nutrition. For example, the UK National Institutes of Health (NIH) is investing in precision nutrition to accurately educate the public on what they should eat.
Implications of nutrigenomics
Wider implications of nutrigenomics may include:
- An increasing number of startups offering nutrigenomics testing and teaming up with other biotechnology firms (e.g., 23andMe) to combine services.
- The combination of nutrigenomics and microbiome testing kits developing a more accurate analysis of how individuals digest and absorb food.
- More governments and organizations developing their research and innovation policies for food, nutrition, and health.
- Professions relying on body performance, such as athletes, the military, astronauts, and gym trainers, using nutrigenomics to optimize food intake and immune systems.
Questions to comment on
- How might a rise of nutrigenomics be integrated into healthcare services?
- What are the other potential benefits of personalized nutrition?