Nutrigenomics: Eat According to your Genes

Nutrigenomics: Eat According to your Genes

By Jue Jin

Nutrigenomics is the study that deals with the effects of specific nutrients on gene expression. It focuses on identifying and understanding how different nutrients and dietary bioactives are absorbed, metabolized or eliminated, according to a person’s individual genetic makeup. One of the current research challenges in nutrition is to understand and deal with the variability in response to nutrients. Nutrigenomics helps in identifying genetic variations to better move towards personalized nutrition.

The health and nutrition market is currently worth around $485 billion, which is driven by the consumer environment. Consumers have become more concerned for their health and are increasingly interested in disease risk assessment and obtaining dietary advice based on nutrigenetic tests. The nutrigenomic testing market is currently estimated to be worth $730 million, with a growth rate of 20% annually.

Nutrigenomix, a University of Toronto start-up biotech company, is trying to take their scientific discoveries about a number of nutrition-related genetic variations from the laboratory to the marketplace. The genetic test kits developed by Nutrigenomix gather DNA from the patients’ saliva to identify their response to different nutrients and create personalized nutritional assessments, which is based on peer-reviewed studies and approved by the Nutrigenomix International Science Advisory Board. The genetic testing through Nutrigenomix is different from disease-based genetic testing services, which is more focused on wellness and healthy eating. DNA-based dietary advice has shown to be more actionable than general population-based recommendations. Currently, the Nutrigenomix tests are available in 1,500 clinics in 22 countries, only through qualified dietitians to ensure the privacy of the individual’s results. The test only uses a small amount of saliva to obtained DNA and takes about 2-4 weeks with a cost around $300-$400.

Nutrigenomics builds a bridge between the variations in consumers’ genes and their bodies’ response to food, drinks and supplements, which creates new marketing opportunities. Current development of lactose-free or gluten-free products has shown the response of the food industry to the needs of those with specific gene variants that result in lactose intolerance or celiac disease. In future, more tailor-made food and beverage products can be designed containing different levels of nutrients or food bioactives for those with a particular gene profile, such as strengthening a weakened immune system, or improving taste through determination of consumers genetic flavor preferences. These products might be the next exciting opportunity for food manufacturers, but sufficient scientific evidence must be obtained in the lab first.

Therefore, it is important for food manufacturers to collaborate with the leading research groups in this field to be prepared for the next major development. Besides, according to a survey from nine countries with 9000 people, the benefits of the nutrigenomics approach has been generally recognized, but the legal guarantee needs to be further confirmed to avoid misusing of the genetic data.


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