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Would you believe it if I told you that 99.9% of all humans’ DNA is identical? You may be wondering, if that’s the case, why do all humans look different, have different personalities, and like different foods? In fact, the 0.1% of DNA that varies between individuals is responsible for all the differences we see, and some we don’t see. Some of these genetic differences impact the way our bodies process food. For example, lactose intolerance is the result of a certain genetic variation in which the gene that produces the lactase enzyme is deficient, resulting in an inability to properly digest lactose. In this example, inherited genes impact certain nutrient needs. However, research is also beginning to show that the foods we eat might be the cause of some genetic differences that influence disease risk. Research has identified many diet-related factors that influence the structure of our genes, including diet composition, fiber content, food structure, antioxidant capacity, and gut bacteria composition.
What is Nutrigenomics?
Nutrigenomics aims to better understand nutrient-gene interactions, and it is hoped that research in this area will help to prevent certain diseases and provide personalized nutrition advice based on an individual’s specific genetic profile.
Nutrient-gene interactions have been associated with cardiovascular disease, diabetes, cancer, obesity and irritable bowel disease. It is thought that the use of certain nutrients in individuals with specific gene variants could help to prevent these diseases. Nutrigenomic testing attempts to identify gene variants that increase disease risk, thus allowing for tailored nutritional advice. In this way, individuals are able to make lifestyle and dietary changes before the onset of a certain condition. For example, if a nutrigenomic test identifies a genetic variant that puts an individual at risk for developing type-2 diabetes, that individual may have a chance to prevent onset by altering their food and lifestyle choices. Additionally, numerous studies have shown that people respond better to personalized advice as opposed to “one-size-fits-all” recommendations.
How is Testing Done?
Nutrigenomic testing is currently offered “direct to consumer” from commercial businesses. The actual process for consumers is quite simple, and requires only a saliva sample, obtained via a cheek swab. The sample is then analyzed using advanced technology to identify genetic variants that influence nutrient use in the body or increase disease risk. Typically, only 30 – 50 genes are analyzed in a test, based on their known functions.
Nutrigenomics is a young science that has provided promising research in recent years, but there is a great need for more supporting evidence before genetic testing becomes the basis for nutrition and dietary advice. While there is much room for growth and advancement in the field, the connections that have already been established between our genes and the food we eat are nothing short of important.