Personalised health sounds very interesting. The idea that we can literally discover the information out genes hold, and use that knowledge to try and prevent out pre dispositioned health outcomes sounds like a brilliant idea. But, 1. is it just a con (considering some companies are charging + $900, just for a genetic-based workout plan)? and 2. what are the ethical implications should this become a well-recognised method?
What is personalised health?
Personalised health and/or nutrition is basically investigating the complex interaction between how nutrients influence the way our genes become expressed, and how our genes affect how we metabolically process these nutrients. With this being such a complex mechanism, and with the little current research conducted, please keep a critical eye when you see a company promoting their ‘genetic plan designed for YOU!’
Personalised nutrition was first proposed by Roger William in the 1950’s, however, the idea gained momentum when the human genome project was completed in 2003. It has been proposed to be our future nutrition model. But it is hard to go past the ethics behind; should we be aware of the conditions we are genetically predisposed to (and how severe they may be?)
Also, psychologically it has been shown that many people cannot habitually change their lifestyle habits despite knowing what they are prone to develop. (1) Most of us know ‘junk’ food is bad for us and that we should try and reduce our fast-food and sugar intake, but despite that knowledge, we continue to consume it anyway. So could this expensive health care model, just be a waste of money? Also, would knowing how likely we are to develop a disease just create a heightened anxiety within, that becomes a burden to us each day. Obviously, at the moment companies offering personalised nutrition is a voluntary act, but if it becomes a potential health care model – that’s when the ethical considerations need to be justified.
There are 2 main areas under the term ‘personalised nutrition,’
- Nutrigenetics which is how our embedded genetic variation responds to nutrition (2)
- Nutrigenomics which is how the food we eat affects gene expression (2)
The field of understanding nutrigenetics and nutrigenomics has some basic fundamental hypothesis’.
- Nutrients may alter gene expression in critical metabolic pathways or by affecting the probability of a specific gene mutation occurring. (2)
- The health effects of different nutrients vary depending on an individual’s genetic makeup. Therefore genetics are primary factors in how healthy a nutrient is to an individual due to individual variance in metabolism, nutrient combinations or absorption ability. (2)
- Better health outcomes are associated with individualised nutrition, based on an individuals lifespan, dietary preferences and health span. (2)
1. Hjartåker A, Lund E. Relationship between dietary habits, age, lifestyle and socio-economic status among adult Norwegian women. The Norwegian Women and Cancer Study. European Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 1998;52(8):565-572.
2. Fenech M, El-Sohemy A, Cahill L, Ferguson L, French T, Tai E et al. Nutrigenetics and Nutrigenomics: Viewpoints on the Current Status and Applications in Nutrition Research and Practice. Journal of Nutrigenetics and Nutrigenomics. 2011;4(2):69-89.