Genetic Testing Nutrigenetics

“Nope, says right here that I don’t need the broccoli, thanks.”

If you think that determining your need for certain nutrients based on your DNA sounds crazy, think again. As the field of nutrigenetics grows, it may soon be possible to have a diet and lifestyle plan tailored specifically for you.

Defining Nutrigenetics

Nutrigenetics is research into the way that your diet, genes and lifestyle interact. It provides the basis for being able to use information from your genetic make-up to provide you with personalized diet and lifestyle advice.

In other words, nutrigenetics could help determine how the symbiosis of food and your particular genes affect your health.

Scientists are working on developing a nutrigenetic test, which would analyze an individual’s DNA and determine what nutrients would be most effective for that specific person.

Researchers hope that as they learn more, they can tell individuals what foods each individual’s body metabolizes best. They also hope to be able to tell you what foods may contribute to diseases your genome might be susceptible to, such as diet-related diseases, cancer, type 2 diabetes and cardio-vascular diseases.

By using the test to identify your own unique genetic variations, a nutritionist or health specialist could then provide you with dietary and lifestyle recommendations that would help lessen the possibility of these diseases.

Nutrition Genetics: Promising, but Not There Yet

While the human genome slowly is giving up its secrets to determined scientists and researchers, nutrition genetics is not quite ready for prime time.

But with genetic and dietary factors each accounting for an estimated one-third of all cancer risks, nutrigenetics is considered to be a field of great promise. Researchers and scientists agree that this type of testing is just years away from being ready for use.

Beware of Nutrigenetic Testing Frauds

Hoping to capitalize on the first wave of consumers, companies selling nutrigenetic tests have taken to the Internet. They claim that with a cheek swab and a little personal history, they can give you a diet specific to your DNA.

Unfortunately for consumers, they are lying.

The United States Government Accountability Office (GAO) testified before the U.S. Senate claiming that tests from the four companies they investigated were inaccurate and misled consumers.

Members of the GAO posed as fictional consumers to undergo the inspection, and found that the companies mislead customers with predictions that are medically unproven and vague. These tests, which range from $100 to $1,000, diagnosed potential conditions not discernible through a DNA test.

Despite the fact that all four Web sites state that their tests are not intended to diagnose disease or predisposition to disease, all sent back results warning that the fictitious customers were at risk for a range of medical conditions, including type 2 diabetes, osteoporosis, cancer, heart disease, and brain aging. These predictions appeared to be independent of which DNA sample was sent in, even though the female and male test results showed different gene variants.

Rather than using the genetic sample, the companies were tailoring their results to the questionnaire individuals filled out. Admitted smokers, for instance, were told to stop smoking because they were at risk for lung cancer and heart disease. Non-smokers were told to continue not to smoke.

With the results came recommendations for certain supplements, which not surprisingly were sold by that particular company.

Genetic Testing: Questions of Legitimacy

While the link between DNA and food has yet to be unraveled, keep in mind that legitimate laboratory DNA tests to detect alterations in DNA or chromosomes do exist.

Diagnostic genetic testing can identify or confirm the diagnosis of a disease or condition. Genetic tests also can be used to determine one’s risk of developing a particular disease or condition, like heart disease or breast cancer, later in life.

Adults thinking about having children can undergo carrier screening if they are concerned that they may be at risk to have a child with a genetic disease. Tests that identify molecular changes in DNA and biochemical tests that detect metabolic conditions are used.

So while we can look forward to a day when we’ll have a diet tailored exclusively to our individual body makeup, for now it may be wise to go with the salad instead of the fries.

Resources

Brown, E. (2007). Nutrigenetic Testing. Retrieved September 17, 2008 from the GenomicsEducation.ca Web site: http://www.genomicseducation.ca/informationArticles/health/nutrigenetic_testing.asp.

Genetics and Public Policy Center (2006). Genetic Testing. Retrieved September 17, 2008 from the Genetics and Public Policy Web site: http://www.dnapolicy.org/science.gt.php.

U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) (2006). Nutrigenetic Testing. Retrieved September 17, 2008 from the GAO Web site: http://www.gao.gov/new.items/d06977t.pdf.

Wood, P. (n.d.). Nutrigenetic testing: is it ready for prime-time? Retrieved September 17, 2008 from the Diabetes in Control Web site: http://www.diabetesincontrol.com/results.php?storyarticle=4524.