Nutritional genomics, or nutrigenomics, is the study of how foods affect our genes and how individual genetic differences can affect the way we respond to nutrients (and other naturally occurring compounds) in the foods we eat. Nutrigenomics has received much attention recently because of its potential for preventing, mitigating, or treating chronic disease, and certain cancers, through small but highly informative dietary changes. The conceptual basis for this new branch of genomic research can best be summarized by the following five tenets of nutrigenomics:
- Under certain circumstances and in some individuals, diet can be a serious risk factor for a number of diseases.
- Common dietary chemicals can act on the human genome, either directly or indirectly, to alter gene expression or structure.
- The degree to which diet influences the balance between healthy and disease states may depend on an individual’s genetic makeup.
- Some diet-regulated genes (and their normal, common variants) are likely to play a role in the onset, incidence, progression, and/or severity of chronic diseases.
- Dietary intervention based on knowledge of nutritional requirement, nutritional status, and genotype (i.e., “personalized nutrition“) can be used to prevent, mitigate or cure chronic disease.
The promise of nutritional genomics is personalized medicine and health based upon an understanding of our nutritional needs, nutritional and health status, and our genotype. Nutrigenomics will also have impacts on society “from medicine to agricultural and dietary practices to social and public policies” and its applications are likely to exceed that of even the human genome project. Chronic diseases (and some types of cancer) may be preventable, or at least delayed, by balanced, sensible diets. Knowledge gained from comparing diet/gene interactions in different populations may provide information needed to address the larger problem of global malnutrition and disease.
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