– Nutrition –
Simply put, it’s the future of personalized nutrition.
In 2006, researchers made a fascinating discovery: After dozens of studies found that drinking coffee escalates heart-attack risk, this new inquiry revealed that while coffee did up the hazard significantly for some, the exact opposite was true for others. For those individuals, consumption of one to three cups daily actually lowered the danger of a heart attack.
In the past, these people might have been labeled outliers and their results dismissed. But the researchers found that the difference was due to variations of a gene, CYP1A2, which controls the enzyme that breaks down caffeine in the liver; some people have a slow version, while others harbor a fast one. They theorized that quickly processing the caffeine unleashed coffee’s beneficial effects — the healthy polyphenols and antioxidants.
The study is part of a burgeoning research field called nutrigenomics, which explores how nutrients and our 20,000-plus genes interact. Its advocates see it as a game-changer for our health.
“We now recognize that virtually every gene has some either direct or indirect relationship to nutrition,” says functional-medicine pioneer and biochemist Jeffrey Bland, PhD.
“Genes affect our metabolism, cellular uptake, distribution, absorption, and elimination of everything that we ingest,” explains coffee-study leader Ahmed El-Sohemy, PhD, a professor of nutritional sciences at the University of Toronto. “Genes can determine our likes and dislikes of various foods, our olfactory smell sensors, and our taste receptors. Genes also influence our appetite and satiety.”
And the reverse is also true: Our nutritional choices affect our genes — which ones get turned on and express themselves (a field of study known as epigenetics).
Most current dietary recommendations are one-size-fits-all, so it’s not surprising that the ketogenic diet that helped your Aunt May lose weight didn’t work for you, or the caffeine shots others take for boosting sports performance leave you feeling sluggish. “What’s good for one person might actually be harmful for somebody else,” warns El-Sohemy.
Scientists foresee nutrigenomics aiding us in myriad ways:
- Optimizing health by identifying bioindividualized nutritional requirements or deficiencies. “Individual genetic differences can help us predict whether or not a specific food is going to be…