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[5 min read] Nutritional genomics and personalised nutrition

Nutritional genomics is an nascent and fast-moving scientific field that examines how nutrition impacts genes and their variants, with a specific interest in how the diet may contribute to or prevent disease [1].

Nutritional recommendations such as eating more whole grains and filling half the plate with fruits and vegetables, are meant for the general population to help decrease the risk of the main chronic diseases of cancer, heart disease, and high blood pressure. However, individual genetic differences exist among people–from food preferences to how food is metabolized or burned [2]. Given the increasing global burden of nutrition-related noncommunicable disease, the goal of nutritional genomics is to learn how this interaction between nutrition and genes can prevent disease and positively influence human health on both an individual and a population level [3, 4].

For further information on this topic, you may be interested to learn more about the HealthCert Professional Diploma program in Medical Nutrition Management.

Nutritional genomics is a broad umbrella term that can be broken down into two disciplines, as follows:

  • Nutrigenetics: aims to identify how genetic variants influence the individual response to nutrients and a dietary pattern. How does what we eat affect our genes?
  • Nutrigenomics: the application of genomic tools to understand how food components and dietary recommendations influence gene activity, resulting in homeostatic control of metabolism and nutrients. How do a person’s genes impact an individual’s response to diet?

An example of nutrigenomics is the link between a compound in red wine called resveratrol and cancer. Resveratrol can stimulate a gene that protects tissue from free radical damage and thus can help prevent cancer [5]. Another example is the link between a compound called polyphenols in dark chocolate and cancer. Phenolic compounds have been shown to have strong anticancer effects due to their ability to alter the epigenome of cancer cells, potentially decreasing one’s risk of free radical damage and carcinogenesis [6, 7].

Direct-to-consumer nutrigenetic tests are already available to patients, as are tests conducted via a range of healthcare professionals (whose training in genetics and genomics may vary). Additionally, while guidelines exist for examining scientific validity of gene-nutrient interactions for doctors and dietitians, less is known about the clinical utility of these tests.

So, while the evidence continues to show promise for informing nutrition information, primary care physicians must first consider a range of factors, such as clinical utility and ethical issues, before recommending testing to patients.

Key points:

  • Nutrigenomics is the study of how nutrition influences genes and hence an individual’s risk of developing disease.
  • It provides highly tailored dietary advice that accounts for specific genetic make-up rather than generalised advice.
  • It augments the skills of primary care physicians and dietitians, however legal and ethical considerations as well as appropriate training should be considered.

Learn more about personalised nutrition and how it may assist in the prevention and management of chronic disease with the online HealthCert Professional Diploma program in Medical Nutrition Management.

– Lynette Law, Accredited Practising Dietitian

Read another article like this one: Nutrition therapy for anaemia


  1. Pavlidis, C., et al., Nutrigenomics 2.0: The Need for Ongoing and Independent Evaluation and Synthesis of Commercial Nutrigenomics Tests’ Scientific Knowledge Base for Responsible Innovation. Omics, 2016. 20(2): p. 65-8.
  2. Mathers, J.C., Nutrigenomics in the modern era. Proc Nutr Soc, 2017. 76(3): p. 265-275.
  3. Ordovas, J.M., et al., Personalised nutrition and health. BMJ, 2018. 361: p. bmj.k2173.
  4. Horne, J., et al., Enhanced long-term dietary change and adherence in a nutrigenomics-guided lifestyle intervention compared to a population-based (GLB/DPP) lifestyle intervention for weight management: results from the NOW randomised controlled trial. BMJ Nutrition, Prevention & Health, 2020. 3(1): p. 49-59.
  5. Weiskirchen, S. and R. Weiskirchen, Resveratrol: How Much Wine Do You Have to Drink to Stay Healthy? Adv Nutr, 2016. 7(4): p. 706-18.
  6. Katz, D.L., K. Doughty, and A. Ali, Cocoa and chocolate in human health and disease. Antioxid Redox Signal, 2011. 15(10): p. 2779-811.
  7. Briguglio, G., et al., Polyphenols in cancer prevention: New insights (Review). Int J Funct Nutr, 2020. 1(2): p. 9.

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