Diets could soon be tailored for people according to their genetic makeup, Kansas State University researchers have said.
According to the scientists, nutrigenomics - the study of the effect of food on gene expression - could completely change the future of public health.
Koushik Adhikari, K-State assistant professor of sensory analysis said: "Nutrigenomics involves tailoring diets to someone's genetic makeup.
"I speculate that in five to 10 years, you would go to a genetic counselor or a physician who could help you understand your genetic makeup, and then a nutritional professional could customize your diet accordingly."
Adhikari teamed up with Denis Medeiros, professor and department head of human nutrition, and Jean Getz, former K-State graduate student in human nutrition, for an article on nutrigenomics that appeared in the January issue of Food Technology. Getz, now a student at the School of Osteopathic Medicine at Michigan State University, wrote the article while at K-State.
Nutrigenomics is a growing field of research that combines molecular biology, genetics and nutrition to regulate gene expression through specific nutrients. Nutrients have been shown to affect gene expression through transcription factors, which are biochemical entities that bind to DNA and either promote or inhibit transcription of genes. By understanding the roles of specific nutrients and how they might cause diseases, scientists could recommend specific foods for an individual based on his or her genetics.
Adhikari said: "Scientists are looking at the molecular mechanisms in the body.
"At the molecular level, you can look at what specific nutrients can do to your body that would trigger genes to act properly, in a healthy way."
Medeiros said: "These studies not only answer whether the concerned nutrients prevent a disease, but also how they exert their health benefits."
Advanced Nutrigenomics research means health recommendations could be better modified to individuals.
Adhikari said: "That is where I think the main focus of nutrigenomics is going to be in the future.
"It could tell you that you have the propensity for certain chronic diseases so that you could modify your diet accordingly. With a better understanding of how nutrients alter gene expression, there is a potential that food could be used instead of medication to combat problems like high cholesterol."
Nutrigenomics would require a collaborative effort from people in genetics and the industries of public health, food science and culinary. Adhikari said the food industry should collaborate with the culinary industry to create more healthful and appealing foods.
He added: "This is one of the major issues with the food industry.
"It's very easy to make good-tasting food. Put some lard or butter in it, and it's going to taste good.
The challenge is how to take the fat out and create healthful but also good-tasting food."