A personalized diet to prevent diseases? Nutrition scientists are working on it.

You know that phrase “you are what you eat”? Nutrition scientists are getting to the bottom of what that means with an emerging area of ​​research called precision nutrition.

It is a growing field of study that assumes that each person may have unique responses to eating specific foods and nutrients, and combines data based on genetics, behavior, socioeconomics, environment, and eating patterns to develop diets. potentially personalized to improve health and help prevent chronic disease. conditions such as cardiovascular disease.

“There is no doubt that diet influences our health and can help prevent disease, but this science will now be advanced through carefully detailed research and intervention efforts to identify exactly what type of diet is best suited to what type of individual.” said Linda Van Horn, one of many senior principal investigators across the country leading a $170 million program funded by the National Institutes of Health calledNutrition for Precision Health.

“It’s very exciting, comprehensive and very likely to change the way diets are prescribed, the way medicine is practiced and the way life will be approached in the future in terms of promoting healthy eating for everyone,” said Van Horn, a professor of preventive medicine. at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago.

a recentAmerican Heart Association Scientific Statementproviding dietary guidance to improve cardiovascular health pointed to the future of this new area of ​​research and its potential to provide personalized diets to prevent heart disease and stroke.

Rather than take a typical hypothesis-driven approach, precision nutrition researchers collect data to study an individual’s DNA, gut microbiome, metabolism, and response to what they eat, and can determine how it affects their psychological profile and person’s biological background, Van Horn said. .

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While researchers previously relied solely on participants being able to remember what they ate, how much they ate, and how it was prepared, the NIH program will develop algorithms to predict individual response to nutrition and diet.

“Most people can’t remember or don’t know or have a limited ability to remember specifically what they ate, how much they ate or how it was seasoned or prepared, things that are very important in terms of their influence on health,” Van said. . Horn said. Precision nutrition focuses on identifying “specific relationships between what a person eats and outcomes we can measure, such as blood pressure, blood glucose, or body weight, and any other measures of interest related to disease prevention.” diseases”.

José M. Ordovás, professor of nutrition and senior scientist at Tufts University in Boston, is encouraged by what he calls “the first serious attempt to conquer personalized nutrition.”

“I think this is like a seed to crystallize the field of precision nutrition,” Ordovás said. “This is a priority now.”

The new research project hopes to recruit 10,000 people from the NIHAll of Us Research Program, its attempt to build what it claims is one of the most diverse health databases in history by enrolling participants of all races, ethnicities, and economic levels. One goal is to try to address some of the health disparities caused by structural racism and socioeconomic status.

“It’s a sample of people from across the country, so these questions can address issues of diversity, cultural preferences, demographics, and other factors that influence dietary choices and biological response in a wide range of people,” Van Horn said. .

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But while at some levels precision nutrition strategies could help level the playing field and reduce socioeconomic, racial and ethnic disparities in cardiovascular disease, Ordovás warned that personalized approaches could widen health disparities if only accessible to small segments of the population.

Because the research is still in its early stages with scientific and research hurdles ahead, Ordovás believes it is critical that precision nutrition technologies be combined with public health strategies when addressing health issues.

“Most of the genetics that we know about is about white Europeans, so this study starts with the right mindset because it’s going to make sure minorities are represented,” Ordovas said. “But the next challenge is to make sure that the information generated from this doesn’t benefit a few but is open to all, and that requires education on many levels. And one of those levels is convincing people of the advantages of preventive medicine over traditional reactive medicine.”

— María Elena Fernández, American Heart Association News

Note: Always talk with your healthcare provider for diagnosis and treatment, including your specific medical needs.