Applying Genomics to Nutrition and Lifestyle Modification

Daiva E Nielsen; Ahmed El-Sohemy


Personalized Medicine. 2012;9(7):739-749. 

In This Article

Abstract and Introduction


Personalized nutrition aims to prevent the onset and development of chronic diseases by targeting dietary recommendations to an individual's genetic profile. Gene–diet interactions that affect metabolic pathways relevant to disease risk are continuously being uncovered. Discoveries in the field of nutrigenomics demonstrate that some individuals may benefit from adhering to different dietary guidelines than others, depending on their genotype. Certain industries have already begun to capitalize on the anticipation that knowledge of genomic information could help prevent the risk of developing diseases. Although disclosure of genetic information has been associated with the adoption of positive health-related behaviors under certain circumstances, the effect of providing gene-based dietary advice on motivating adherence to favorable dietary changes is largely unknown.


Variability between individuals in response to dietary intervention is a well-documented occurrence in nutrition research and practice.[1] The effect of diet modification on health-related markers such as blood cholesterol, body weight and blood pressure can differ significantly between individuals.[2] These differences partially account for the limited effectiveness of the current one-size-fits-all population-based model of nutritional guidance for health promotion. Factors such as age, sex, physical activity and smoking are known to affect one's response to diet, but the influence of genetics is becoming an increasingly important consideration. Nutrigenomics (or nutritional genomics) is the study of the relationship between genes and diet, and is used as an umbrella term for two complimentary approaches: how nutrients affect gene function and how genetic variation affects nutrient response.[3] The latter is referred to as nutrigenetics[4] and includes the study of how genetic variation affects food intake and eating behaviors, in addition to the biological response to nutrients and food bioactives.[5,6] Recent advances in nutrigenomics have shown that some individuals benefit more by following different dietary recommendations than others based on their individual genotype. This method of personalizing dietary recommendations based on 'responders' and 'nonresponders' is one of the primary goals of nutrigenomics. While the term 'personalization' refers to the delivery of information of high relevance to an individual and can be based on several factors such as phenotypes and individual preferences, this review will focus only on the incorporation of an individual's personal genomic information. Personalized nutrition could be useful in both the prevention and treatment of chronic diseases by tailoring dietary advice and designing targeted dietary interventions to an individual's unique genetic profile; however, no studies have examined the effect of providing gene-based dietary advice on dietary intake behavior. This review will highlight the available evidence for personalized nutrition and summarize the literature that has investigated the effect of genomic information on health-related behaviors. Studies that provided subjects with their own genetic information and had follow-up assessments on health behavior outcomes are reviewed. Studies that did not provide subjects with real genetic information (i.e., analogue studies that ask subjects to imagine they are informed of a genetic test result) or studies that were cross-sectional in design are not included in this review.