“The same dietary advice cannot be good for everyone, because we are all different”.
That’s the hard line from Dr. Eran Elinav – immunologist at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot, Israel. His team studies nutritional genomics, a promising field of genetics that explains why you don’t lose weight on a given diet, even though your friend does.
A by-product of the Human Genome Project, nutritional genomics looks at how individual genetic differences affect the way we respond to foods. For example, if you and your sister ate grapes, but only you gained weight, chances are, the genes responsible for your metabolism do not respond well to grapes.
Understanding this interplay offers enormous potential when it comes to weight loss. Suggesting someone avoids grapes because they are high in sugar, therefore, cause weight gain, is weak. Telling someone they lack the gene to metabolize grapes, is powerful. Having a diet tailored to your genetic profile is a game changer, and what nutritional genomics is all about.
With so much promise, why is it not mainstream?
Essentially, we lack data. To recommend a diet based on genetic predispositions requires analyses of every single gene against the variable being tested (in this case metabolism), to determine whether there is a causal relationship. Until then, it’s difficult to guide dietary decisions.
In 2005, Corby Kummer wrote one of the first pieces on nutritional genomics, in the MIT Technology Review. Back then, scientists were optimistic:
…”in ten years the number of genes that can be reliably and cheaply tested for will be closer to 1,000 than 20”…
Today, the Toronto based startup Nutrigenomix, which provides genetic based diet plans, is doing so based on a profile of only 45 genes, but the human genome consists of 25,000. Genetic science has its work cut out.
The bigger picture
What matters is that nutritional genomics is catching on. With enough time and effort (not to mention funding), scientists can provide patients with targeted information about their metabolism and how to optimize their diet for sustainable weight loss.
As always, pushing for health.
Photo Credit: LSD Mag