For decades, the medical profession has taken a “one size fits all” approach to nutrition. Doctors and nutritionists often tell their patients to eat less fat and more vegetables, and supplement daily with vitamins and antioxidants. Of course this is excellent advice but recently science has discovered new approaches. Studies are now revealing that different people might require different nutrients and vitamins to enjoy optimal health. Thanks to the exciting new field of nutrigenomics there’s a new horizon of how we eat and diet.
Nutrigenomics is the study of how food affects our genes and how an individual’s genetic makeup responds to the nutrients in the foods he eats. Now that scientists have mapped the human genome, it may soon be possible to test a small sample of blood and determine exactly what a person needs to eat to fight disease and minimize the risks of predisposed conditions. Every food choice you make could be determined by the specific demands of your unique genetic makeup. Nutrigenomics could indeed take all the guess work out of eating for longevity and good health.
So how does it work? Doctors used to believe that food was simply converted into energy for your cells. As it turns out, there is a bit more to the process. Some dietary compounds do not get metabolized for energy, but instead bind to proteins, which cause changes in certain genes.
A diet that is far enough out of balance could potentially encourage gene expressions that lead to chronic disease. The impact that dietary compounds have on your health and disease risk is determined by your genetic makeup. Information about your nutritional needs and genotype may then be used to prevent, deter or even cure certain diseases, according to the Center of Excellence for Nutritional Genomics at the University of California Davis.
The Future of Nutrigenomics
This way of looking at diet is promising, but still very new. Leading universities, food manufacturers and medical companies are busy considering the best ways to use this technology. There are companies in the United States that currently offer nutritional genetic testing, and it is estimated that about 35,000 people have paid the fee for this information. Before hopping onboard, however, it may be wise to wait and see how the medical profession adapts to this exciting new tool.
For instance, some experts say that lifestyle is just as important as genetics when it comes to your risk of developing a chronic disease. This means that even an ideally balanced genetic diet may only go so far if you engage in risky behaviors such as smoking. Knowledge of family and medical history is also important to consider alongside the information in your DNA. In addition, for nutrigenomics to go mainstream systems must be established to protect individuals’ privacy and genetic information.
I feel confident that we will hear much more about nutrigenomics in the coming years. As technology advances, it is likely that food manufacturers will develop customized products for certain genotypes. Perhaps you will be able to order nutrition bars tailored to the needs of your DNA. Maybe you will make food purchases not based on the general nutrition facts, but on the needs of the genes responsible for long-term disease risk.
There is a lot of information about nutrition and disease prevention at your fingertips already. Talk to your doctor about your health and family history and seek out the nutrient-packed foods and supplements that can keep you healthy. Until we all know exactly what our DNA demands, we can fight disease and aging with a variety of nutrients and antioxidants found in natural foods and vitamins.