Two women of the same age, living the same lifestyle, have a diet high in sodium and processed foods, and low in fruits and vegetables. One of them goes on to develop high blood pressure and high cholesterol, but the other lives a life absent of any such chronic issues. How can there be such different health outcomes for two people who lead identical lifestyles?
That is what a fairly new area of research, called nutrigenetics, is trying to determine. As the study of the relationship between genes, diet and health outcomes, it is touted as the foundation of what we consider personalized nutrition.
While population-based research has been the gold standard for the basis of dietary recommendations, there are always outliers that don’t respond to diet in the same way as the majority of people. These individuals are said to have genetic variants which can affect their nutritional status in many ways. For example, a person’s genetic sequence can impact their nutrient requirements, metabolism, appetite, taste, and risk of chronic disease in response to their diet.
Researchers believe there are potentially thousands of genetic variations that can be affected by diet. Areas that have made some headway in research include: requirements for Vitamin C, choline and folate; the role of saturated fats on levels of LDL cholesterol as well as the risk of obesity; the role of polyunsaturated fats on HDL cholesterol levels; fruit and vegetable intake on the incidence of myocardial infarction and the impact of a low glycemic load diet on the development of type 2 diabetes.
Although we are likely still years away from it, researchers hope people will one day be able to receive nutritional recommendations based on their genetic makeup as a way to prevent chronic illnesses down the road. In the meantime, asking about an individual’s family medical history, and keeping up-to-date on the findings of nutrigenetics as well as population-based studies are the best tools Registered Dietitians can use to help their clients prevent chronic illnesses.
Editors Note: This article was originally published in 2014. As of April 1 2019, Nutrigenomix is being available to clients in Calgary and Edmonton, with plans for expansion to BC in May 2019.
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