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Select the Right Nutrient by Studying Your Genes

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Pranav Anam, Founder, The Gene Box emphasises on how nutrigenomics can help make appropriate choices regarding his/her health and delay onset of lifestyle-induced diseases

Do you binge eat quite frequently? Are you not losing weight even after quitting carbohydrates? Do you prefer fatty foods over sweet ones? We blame stress levels, poor gym trainer and many more but seldom we try and delve deep into our genetic constitution. The erratic snacking pattern may well indicate a genetic abnormality while opting for healthy, slow-absorbing carbohydrates may be more useful for your body type. The food we eat impacts our nutritional requirements, metabolism and the ability to maintain optimum weight and the varied responses are governed by our genetics. Our genetic codes are unique to each of us and remain the same throughout our life. However, external factors such as environment, lifestyle and nutrition can affect it over a period. Worldwide, examining genes have yielded a myriad of details, and are increasingly guiding food choices. Nutrigenomics, the study of how different foods may interact with specific genes to increase the risk of common chronic diseases such as type 2 diabetes, obesity, heart disease, etc. can play a crucial role in defining the right kind of diet to maintain or achieve optimum weight. It is a science that studies the interaction between food and genetics to pave the way for meaningful personalisation and faster adoption of nutrition related services.

Promoting wellness and countering NCDs through Nutrigenomics

Quite often, people fighting weight gain hear that they should stop consuming rice or any rice products, apparently because it promotes weight gain. Have you ever looked at people of other south and south east Asian countries where rice is more staple than India? How many did you find were overweight or obese? This is because, when it comes to nutrients that you take through diet or supplements, your genes can cause you to respond differently from other people. Knowing how the genetic constitution can impact well-being can have a profound effect – armed with this information, an individual can make appropriate choices regarding his/her health and save the routine of trial and error. Nutrigenomics (also known as nutritional genomics) defines the relationship between nutrients, diet, and genetics. The launch of the Human Genome Project in the 1990s and subsequently, mapping of human DNA sequencing ushered in the ‘era of big science’, and jump started the field of nutrigenomics. Many deem it to be the ‘next big thing’ to fight lifestyle-linked diseases. In view of the increasing burden of nutrition-related non communicable diseases in India and elsewhere, nutrigenomics can play an important role to develop more sustainable approaches that encourage dietary change in people and delay the onset of lifestyle-induced diseases.

A promising future in India

Nutrigenomics is a whole system approach – it examines relationships between what we eat and our risk and response to disease and the molecular mediators. Nutrigenomics uses many types of scientific tools to identify disease risk and progression, such as maintaining food diaries to record nutrient input and clinical data such as age, weight, sex and BMI to monitor the health impact of food. Nutrigenomics -based approaches are being applied to assess risk of developing metabolic syndrome based on genetic variants. It is contingent on diet or lifestyle, links between gut microbiota, obesity and mental health and establishes a correlation between a specific nutrient intake and disease, such as coffee and cardiac irregularities. Nutrigenomics has the potential to become the cornerstone of a new-age, personalised, nutritional interventions. It can be used to identify, and provide supplements to poor metabolisers of folate in pregnancy, or recommending a low-fat diet versus low carbohydrate diet as the best way to lose excess weight.

A recent, multi-centre trial in the European Union showed that personalised nutrition approaches developed through algorithms integrating information on diet, genotype (the set of genes in its DNA responsible for a particular trait), and phenotype (the set of characteristics resulting from the interaction of its genotype with the environment) can offer larger health gains than adhering to standard dietary guidelines. The global market for nutrigenomics was valued at $287 million in 2018. It is estimated to grow at a CAGR of 16.6 per cent between 2019 and 2025 and reach nearly $845 million by 2025, as newer sectors such as food and beverages (F&B) rapidly adopt nutrigenomics to offer customised menu to the patrons. In a country like India where population is dense and disease burden is high, a nutrigenomic approach can be a game changer, especially in dealing with lifestyle diseases that constitute the lion’s share of the non-communicable diseases.

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