Nutrigenomics is the study of how nutrition impacts genes, with a specific interest in how the diet may contribute to or prevent disease. The study of genetics in general has been of interest to scientists for many years but has more recently sparked interest in the public as consumer testing is now available in easy, take-home kits. With one quick saliva sample you can discover your genetic disease risk, relatives, and country of origin. Expanding beyond just the basics, nutrigenomic testing is now widely available as well. Companies are offering basic suggestions on foods that fit best with your genetic makeup, such as foods that may contribute to weight gain or digestive upset, or genetic predispositions to certain types of nutrient deficiencies. Nutrigenomics is taking personalized nutrition to the extreme. So, what exactly do we know about nutrigenomics?
Nutrigenomics is relatively new to the public market
The topic of nutrigenomics is quickly becoming popular in the United States and around the world. Scientists Neeha and Kinth point out, “…there is an urgent need to boost more research in this field to help people in understanding the relationship between diet and health, and to ensure that everyone benefits from the genomic revolution.”1 However, the application of gene and nutrition technologies were mostly untried and untested in the early 2000s.2 Even though that was 20 years ago, brining a new scientific technology to the consumer market takes time. It has only been in the past couple of years that the average person could pick up a genetic and nutrition kit online or at the pharmacy.
This raises the question – is it too early to jump into genetic/genomic testing? Perhaps not, but test results should be digested with a few key points in mind.
Genetic results should only be interpreted by trained professionals
Just like any other type of specialist, the study of genetics and genomics is best understood by a specialist. A geneticist, a genetic counselor, or a medical provider who specializes in genetics and genomics is best equipped to help an individual understand results.3 Without proper interpretation, results could be confusing or even alarming. Just like if your doctor drew your blood and sent you home with results but no consultation, you likely won’t understand what is truley important and what isn’t. Many “abnormal” results still can easily be dealt with. If you are interested in trying genetic testing for yourself, purchase an all-inclusive kit from a reputable company, or ask your primary care provider for a referral.
Genetic tests raise ethical issues
Your genes tell the unique story of you. However, they tell a story about you that even you may not be familiar with. Looking into individual genes is almost something right out of a sci-fi movie; you can now get a glimpse into your future. Are you likely to develop Alzheimer’s? A genetic test can tell you. Although, that may not be something you really want to know. On the other hand, it might give you the option to take preventative steps now, like improving your diet. Ultimately, it’s up to you to decide if you are interested in having an in-depth look into your health.
Nutrigenomics is debunking the “one-size-fits-all” philosophy
Food science is constantly evolving and is often confusing to consumers. The food pyramid today looks entirely different than the food pyramid in the 1990s. It’s difficult to keep up with the trends; keto, intermittent fasting, paleo, dairy-free, gluten-free, vegan, flexitarian, are just a few diets that have become very popular just in the last 5 years. The future of nutrigenomics will help to answer the questions, “Are all foods really healthy?” and “Are any foods really bad”? Rather than blindly following the latest dietary trends, each individual can have access to understanding their own unique dietary needs. Imagine everybody eating for the benefit of their own body rather than spending time becoming frustrated when the diet their friend is finding success on doesn’t work for them. Nutrigenomic research shows even generalized micro- and macronutrient recommendations do not affect every individual in the same way.4 Scientists now even believe that diseases like obesity can be addressed on a molecular and metabolic level.5 As nutrigenomics continues to develop over the next few decades, we are sure to see a complete disruption of the current nutrition industry.
If you are interested in personalizing and optimizing your nutrition, speak to your doctor about what genetic testing options would be best for you.
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- Neeha VS, Kinth P. Nutrigenomics research: a review. J Food Sci Technol. 2013;50(3):415-28.
- Astley SB. An introduction to nutrigenomics developments and trends. Genes Nutr. 2007;2(1):11-3.
- Why might someone have a genetic consultation? National Institutes of Health. https://ghr.nlm.nih.gov/primer/consult/reasons. Published January 21, 2020. Accessed February 10, 2020.
- Peña-romero AC, Navas-carrillo D, Marín F, Orenes-piñero E. The future of nutrition: Nutrigenomics and nutrigenetics in obesity and cardiovascular diseases. Crit Rev Food Sci Nutr. 2018;58(17):3030-3041.
- Joffe YT, Houghton CA. A Novel Approach to the Nutrigenetics and Nutrigenomics of Obesity and Weight Management. Curr Oncol Rep. 2016;18(7):43.