By: Nutrition Expert- Vidula Kozarekar, Mumbai.
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Nutrition and genetics both play an important role in human health as well as the development of chronic diseases such as cancer, osteoporosis, diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Nutrigenomics describes the scientific approach that integrates nutritional sciences and genomics and includes the application of other high-throughput ‘omics’ technologies such as transcriptomics, proteomics and metabolomics to investigate the effects of nutrition on health (1).
5 basic principles of Nutrigenomics: (2)
- Substances contained in the food (micro- and macro-nutrients) can directly or indirectly affect the human genome through changes in its structure and gene expression.
- Under certain circumstances and in some individuals the diet can be an important risk factor for the development of the number of diseases.
- Some genes regulated by active substances in the diet probably play a crucial role in the onset, incidence, progression and severity of the disease.
- The degree to which diet influences the balance between health and disease may depend on individual’s genetic makeup.
- Nutritional intervention is based on the knowledge of individual’s nutritional status and needs as well as genotype (individualized nutrition) and can be used for prevention, mitigation or healing the chronic diseases.
The need for Nutrigenomics: (1)
- The effect of dietary changes on phenotypes such as blood cholesterol, body weight and blood pressure can differ significantly between individuals.
- There are many factors that can influence the response to diet such as age, sex, physical activity, smoking and genetics.
- The goal of personalized nutrition is to identify individuals who benefit from a particular nutritional intervention (responders), and identify alternatives for those who do not (non-responders).
- Individuals should no longer be subjected to unnecessary diets they find unpleasant and ineffective when there may be an alternate dietary approach that is more effective.
- Personalized nutrition could be useful in both the prevention and treatment of chronic diseases by tailoring dietary advice to an individual’s unique genetic profile.
How Nutrition and Genetics are inter-connected?
- The daily ingestion, absorption, digestion, transport, metabolism and excretion of nutrients and food bioactives involve many proteins such as enzymes, receptors, transporters, ion channels and hormones.
- Variations in genes encoding proteins that affect any of these processes can alter both the amount of the protein produced as well as how well that protein functions.
- If a genetic variation leads to altered production or function of these proteins then nutritional status might be affected.
- Although the term Nutrigenomics is relatively new, the concept has been around for some time. Perhaps the most familiar example is lactose intolerance, which is a condition resulting from an inadequate production of lactase in the small intestine due to genetic variation in the lactase gene.
- Phenylketonuria (PKU) is an inborn error of metabolism, which represents another classic example of Nutrigenomics. PKU can result from a genetic variation in phenylalanine hydroxylase (the enzyme needed to convert phenylalanine to tyrosine).
The expected benefits from Nutrigenomics are tremendous and encompass: (3)
- A better understanding of the toxicity and safety profile of macro- and micronutrients.
- The prevention of certain diet-associated diseases.
- The enjoyment of otherwise less healthy food by individuals whose health is not likely to be affected.
- The avoidance of unhelpful dietary supplements that are routinely used by certain people, and
- The prevention of diseases and an increase in life expectancy.
Diet is an important environmental factor that interacts with the genome to modulate disease risk. A clear understanding of these interactions has the potential to support disease prevention through optimization of dietary recommendations.
The extent to which Nutrigenomics will be incorporated in nutrition therapy and promotion remains unknown. However, Nutrigenomics has emerged as a rapidly developing research area with great potential to yield findings that could change the way dietary guidelines for populations and recommendations for individuals are established and advised in the future.