Interest is rising in nutrigenomics – linking an individual’s diet to their genetic predispositions.  The end result could be dietary supplements, functional and medical foods that are customized to an individual’s genetic code for optimal health. But while the technology is certainly exciting, it isn’t something to get too keen about just yet. The tests are still far too expensive for most people to use, and it isn’t certain that they will work properly.

Dr Nancy Fogg-Johnson has delivered a paper to the American Chemical Society outlining a ground-breaking genetically-based approach to nutrition and dietary intervention.

Shoppers generally buy healthy food or nutritional supplements for some perceived health benefit, but other than a cholesterol check or a BMI number, it’s hard to know your specific nutritional needs you might have. Most customers just take educated guesses based on generic prescriptions and the latest diet fad. Even the existing tests are only a vague snapshot into one particular aspect of a person’s health. But that could all be changing.

Nutrigenomics could be the next technological and commercial frontier to emerge from genetic science. Individual genetic differences in response to dietary components have been evident for years: alcohol dehydrogenase deficiency, lactose intolerance, differences in blood lipid profiles and the health impacts of eating high fat. Genomic information can now be used to
understand the basis of individual differences in response to dietary patterns. The data will also allow the development of diet therapies tailored to individuals or groups of the population.

Many in the industry believe that nutrigenomics will revolutionize wellness and disease management. Dave Evans of startup company Wellgen has said, “In less than 10 years, you’ll be able to go to a lab and complete a set of genetic tests to identify your personal disease susceptibilities. When you leave you’ll be armed with a list of foods to eat and foods to avoid and a recommendation of dietary supplements to help prevent your diseases.”

But despite this hype, these nutrigenomic tests are still expensive, experimental and inaccessible to the majority of people. Furthermore, it is not yet clear whether the tests will actually be effective in predicting dietary needs for each individual. But the day may come when retailers will be able to set up a nutrigenomics kiosk and give customers a genetic nutritional profile in a matter of minutes that will direct them to specific products within the store.

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