Nutrigenetics, Nutrigenomics and the Global Obesity Crisis

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Leptin is one of 19 genes that control metabolism. Image by Vossman

Nutrigenomics and Obesity

David M. Mutch, in his 2005 article “Nutrigenomics and nutrigenetics: the emerging faces of nutrition,” Published in The Journal of the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology, this article said that it was once believed that “…one gene leads to one protein leads to one metabolite.”  Nutrigenomics studies the diverse effects of bioactive nutrients on the body as a whole.  It explores how nutrients impact the genome, resulting in different phenotypes (bodily reactions) and leave a “dietary signature” (Koziolkiewicz 2011). This process has several phases that have grown into corresponding new fields within nutrigenomics:

  1. Transcriptomics:  Tracks RNA, the molecule that transfers DNA to the part of the cells that manufacture protein. This information is ideal for the study of metabolic syndrome and inflammatory symptoms associated with obesity and chronic disease.
  2. Proteinomics:  Encompasses the study of the infinite variety of proteins manufactured; and is capable of detecting patterns that can identify biomarkers of risk for obesity related disorders.
  3. Metabolomics:  Considers all metabolites in a human cell or organ; is capable of generating large amounts of data at low cost that detects subtle differences in metabolism that contribute to obesity as well as fluctuations in weight.

Challenges Presented by Nutrigenetics and Nutrigenomics

Fenech ends his article with a note similar to Koziolkiewicz’s conclusion to her presentation: the real hurdle is human motivation. Both scientists both note the following:

  1. The “personally tailored diet” may be perfect in theory, but will people be motivated to follow it? Personal motivation is fast becoming recognized as the single most important factor in weight loss and exercise – and the most difficult to influence.
  2. Will specific information created by the study of nutrigenetics and nutrigenomics overshadow public understanding of general healthy diets by focusing on specific micronutrients?
  3. Will the cost of tailored diets be too high?

Mark McCarthy, of the Department of Epidemiology and Public Health, University College London, London, UK, in a report entitled, “Research for food and health in Europe: themes, needs and proposals.” (2011), states his concern about spending money on micronutrient content:

“Research should now address how macro-diets, rather than micro-nutritional content, can be improved for beneficial impacts on health, and should evaluate the impact of market changes and policy interventions, including regulation, to improve public health.”

Later in his article, he observes,

“The focus has therefore shifted away from micronutrients towards whole diets/whole foods, for example macronutrients and different dietary patterns such as Mediterranean and Nordic diets.”

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