The incidence of acute infections, chronic diseases and metabolic syndromes has become a matter of major concern for scientists and medical professionals. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), 65 percent of the world’s existing population is at a higher risk of dying from obesity as compared to complications associated with malnutrition. Advancements in research regarding human health and disease have shifted the focus of treating and preventing conditions such as diabetes and heart disease towards understanding the biological mechanisms underlying their development, and how our genes play a role in determining illnesses. In this article we’ll go through what Nutrigenetics and Nutrigenomics are and how they can improve your life.
The idea of ‘personalized nutrition’ – a concept which involves ethics, medicine, nutrition and genetics – is gaining popularity among patients. The latter have begun to recognize that nutrients can alter and modulate the molecular mechanisms regulating normal bodily function. This idea has given birth to the fields of nutrigenetics and nutrigenomics, both fields uniquely suited to address the devastating gene-environment interactions which occur as a result of lapses in our evolving dietary habits. Both these concepts are a combination of nutrition, biochemistry and genetics, offering a novel approach for the optimization of health and delaying the onset and severity of disease. However, their core ideas are very distinct and somewhat opposite to one another.
Nutrigenetics describes the role played by inheritance – the genes we acquire from our parents – on the metabolism and processing of nutrients. In short, the field of nutrigenetics addresses how an individual’s genetic makeup influences his responses to the type of food and nutrients he consumes.
Nutrigenomics describes the role our diet plays in modifying gene expression and stability. It provides guidelines on how an individual can adapt his or her diet to benefit their genetic makeup, in turn reducing the chances of disease and promoting good health.
One of the main goals of nutrigenetics is to identify the genes that make certain people more prone to obesity and related diseases. Moreover, future research aims to finds counter-genes as well which may prevent the inset of obesity among such individuals.
Further objectives of nutrigenetics include:
- Allowing doctors, functional medicine practitioners and qualified nutritional therapists to prepare individualised therapeutic strategies.
- Optimising preventive medicine, therapies and diagnostic tools to suit the individual needs of patients.
Nutrigenomics seeks to identify and elaborate patterns known as ‘dietary signatures’. These determine how our diet and particular nutrients influence homeostasis and regulate bodily mechanisms. The genes that are affected by varying amounts of nutrients are first identified, and their role in regulation is then studied. Since every individual has their own unique genetic makeup, the effect of nutrient variation is distinct for everyone.
Further objectives of nutrigenomics include:
- promoting the understanding of how our diet influences metabolism and homeostasis (maintenance of a constant internal environment);
- using this understanding to prevent the onset of chronic conditions, especially cancer, obesity and type II diabetes;
- demonstrating the influence of bioactive food components on health;
- demonstrating the positive effects of functional foods on health, educating people and promoting their use, particularly among those with inadequate nutrition.
Nutrigenetics and nutrigenomics aim to change the way we look at medicine and treatment of disease. They tend to divert our focus from disease-causing organisms towards a more personalised holistic approach. Development and research in these fields will take time, but once a distinct understanding of nutrient-gene interactions is achieved, the landscape of modern preventive medicine will be revolutionised.
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