Nutrigenomics and Personalized Nutrition: Science and Concept

Martin Kussmann; Laurent B. Fay


Personalized Medicine. 2008;5(5):447-455. 

In This Article

Personalized Nutrition

Food personalization, as such, is not a new concept, but has been practised for centuries. However, the emerging scientific basis and industrialization of personalized nutrition and food are new phenomena. Human food choices have always been rooted in personal preferences and individual experiences, including sensory acuity, cultural habits and the personal economic situation. The nutrition community has recognized that different physiological events require significant adaptations to diet. For example, pregnant women, active athletes and elderly people have specific nutrient requirements, and those needs should guide dietary recommendations.

Today, the foods in the marketplace allow a substantial personalization of diets according to consumer knowledge and product marketing. This segmentation inevitably means a shrinking target consumer group. What are the criteria underlying the personal choices of consumers in a world of virtually unlimited options?


The most immediate and easily accessed criteria for food personalization are taste and flavor preferences. Although personal taste preferences have determined food choices for thousands of years, the genetic diversity of taste and olfactory sensation in humans is now recognized to be part of the diversity of food preferences.[50,51] In addition to genetic variation, olfactory preferences are principally a learned response to prior diet; for example, learned olfactory preferences to particular foods and flavors vary even among honey bees.[52]

Cultural Mores

A considerable diversity of food choices relates to core beliefs of their suitability to a particular religious or philosophical value system. While the origins and perpetuation of these choices (halal or kosher foods, vegetarian diets, religious fasting and so on) are not necessarily based on personal nutritional criteria, they do produce nutritional consequences, whether desirable or not.[53,54]

Life Stage

Mankind's experience over centuries has resulted in food personalization influenced by the specific physiological needs of the stages of human life, such as pregnancy, lactation, weaning, infancy, aging and recovery from illness. Innovative research points towards the importance of diets consumed during life-stage transitions (e.g., weaning and lactation) for long-term health effects.[55]


Many aspects of personalization of diets are linked to lifestyle choices. Although scientific evidence is accumulating around the nutritional relevance of such choices and their physiological impacts, historical observations and anecdotes remain the basis for an assumed value of specific food stuff. Foods within this category include, for example, products for athletes before, during and after exercise and training.[56]

Lifestyle Diseases

These conditions develop in a subset of the population and provide another opportunity for adapting nutritional solutions to consumers who are at risk of, or are already experiencing, health problems. Modern diagnostics are being developed with sensitive methods of identifying people with elevated disease risks. A variety of therapeutically oriented products are marketed to those at risk or diseased as a direct result of chronic lifestyle choices. Products with adapted nutrient composition are of potential value, whether targeted either to the symptoms of the problem (e.g., excess body weight and intestinal discomfort) or the lifestyle choices themselves, such as smoking, sedentary behavior or high-fat diets.[57,58]

Inherited Diseases

Humans have recognized the relevance of family history to health, and foods have been an integral part of related solutions. From predispositions such as allergies and intolerances[59] to inherited errors of inborn metabolism,[60] diet is well known to contribute to the prevention and management of these aberrations. The importance of diet for inborn errors of metabolism has led to the worldwide adoption of blood-spot analyses at birth. It is now routine for most of the children born today to be tested for up to ten metabolic diseases, notably not by genotyping but by accurate concentration measures of metabolites whose inordinate abundance in blood are a diagnostic signature of the condition.[61] For example, phenylketonurea is well managed by metabolite-based diagnostics for personalization of low phenylalanine foods. The dramatic risk to the health of the affected individuals justifies measuring all infants at birth, even though the vast majority are uninvolved.[62]

Genetic Predispositions

A final level of personalization bases food choices on genetic variations. This approach refers to personalizing food according to genotyping and would be particularly suited where no other discernible phenotypic aspect can provide equivalent information. Scientifically, assessing metabolically relevant genes for sequence variants is most meaningful for further deepening our understanding of genetically imprinted predisposition towards diets and nutrients.[8] From a consumer application perspective, the development and implementation of such measures should adhere to the following principles: first, one should only genotype a consumer if there is a nutritional solution available that can be adapted to the genetic variants that are measured, second, the prevalence of the genotype of interest in a given target population should be measured in order to assess the economic feasibility to deliver adapted food solutions.


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