NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Nutrigenomics Will Determine Diet in the Future

May 7, 2003

In the near future, scientists and doctors will create the ultimate personal menu. No one will eat exactly what you eat. Your diet will be determined by the specific demands of your genetic signature, and it will perfectly balance your micronutrient and macronutrient needs.

This is the promise -- and the hype -- of nutritional genomics, the second wave of personalized medicine to come rolling out of the Human Genome Project (after pharmacogenomics, or designer drugs). The premise is simple: diet is a big factor in chronic disease, responsible, some say, for a third of most types of cancer. Dietary chemicals change the expression of one's genes and even the genome itself. And -- here's the key -- the influence of diet on health depends on an individual's genetic makeup.

  • A diet that's particularly out of balance, nutritional-genomics scientists say, will cause gene expressions that nudge us toward chronic illness -- unless a precisely tailored "intelligent diet" is employed to restore the equilibrium.
  • And certain populations have variants that, when presented with western-type food -- which is usually fatty and overprocessed and high in calories -- pushes them toward disease rather than health.
  • Members of each genetic subpopulation tend to respond similarly to diet and environmental conditions.
  • But the genetics of race is an inexact science, and since many people have ancestors from different continents -- making them a genetic mixture -- the data is rarely clean-cut.

For nutrigenomics to realize its potential, though, vast, ethnically diverse databases of genomic profiles will have to be assembled, from which researchers will try to divine patterns.

Source: Bruce Grierson, "What Your Genes Want You to Eat," New York Times Magazine, May 4, 2003.


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