What Is Personalised Nutrition?

  • Regina Lopes Senior Nursing Assistant, Health and Social Care, The Open University

Nutrition is vitally important to health and development. We are often told about having a balanced diet that includes an intake of fruit and vegetables, fibre, protein, and dairy, as well as drinking plenty of fluids. These general guidelines have served well for decades and helped the public make more informed decisions about their diet. However, a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach does not take individual differences into account. Developments in genetic research and our understanding of how genetic differences between individuals influence physiologically how we respond to food and treatment have seen efforts turn to a more personalised approach, which is seen as a viable option. In this article, we will discuss what is meant by the term ‘personalised nutrition’, how it works and how it could benefit and transform the nutrition landscape. 

Understanding personalised nutrition

Definition and basic principles

Personalised nutrition uses individual information/data such as genetics and lifestyle factors to create a tailored nutritional plan for you. Based on knowing how your body reacts to certain foods based on genetics, personalised nutrition can take out the hassle of not knowing which foods are best for you.1

How personalised nutrition differs from traditional nutrition approaches

Traditional nutrition focuses on what the body requires in order to function. We can use photosynthesis as an example - plants require water, sunlight and carbon dioxide in order to produce energy and function. The body also requires specific nutritional ingredients for it to function, such as carbohydrates, protein and fat, which are broken down and used appropriately for specific functions within the body (this could be energy production, cell repair, etc). The body receives this nutrition through food, and to meet this requirement, a balanced diet is advised, which involves consuming a varied diet.  The way that our bodies respond to food, however, varies, and these individual differences that stem from genetics and our environment mean that a generalised approach is not always optimal. Personalised nutrition focuses much more on individual characteristics.2

The science behind personalised nutrition

Genetic factors influencing dietary needs

Genomics has progressed significantly in recent decades, from initially understanding the relationship between a nucleotide polymorphism and a nutrient to more sophisticated studies, enabling many more of these interactions to be studied at one time. Many gene-diet relationships have now been established and helped understand causative risk factors for disease.

GeneNutrientRelationship
GSTM1Cruciferous vegetables (e.g., broccoli, cabbage)Individuals with GSTM1 null genotype may benefit from increased consumption of cruciferous vegetables due to their potential to enhance detoxification processes.3
MTHFRFolateVariants in the MTHFR gene can affect folate metabolism, influencing the need for dietary folate intake or supplementation.4
FTOProtein, fatVariants in the FTO gene have been associated with increased appetite and obesity risk, suggesting a need for balanced protein and fat intake.5
APOEOmega-3 fatty acidsCertain variants of the APOE gene may influence lipid metabolism and response to dietary omega-3 fatty acids, potentially impacting cardiovascular health.6
SLC23A1Vitamin CVariants in SLC23A1 gene may affect the absorption and utilisation of vitamin C, suggesting the need for adequate dietary intake.7

The impact of microbiome on personalised nutrition

The microbiome is the collection of living microbes that live in our body and form a mutualistic relationship (both your body and the microbes living there benefit). The microbes in the gut play an important role in digestion and overall health, therefore this suggests that they may also respond to certain foods. A healthy diet promotes a healthy microbiome, which reduces the likelihood of complications such as leaky gut syndrome and inflammation. The ability of the microbiome to aid in the production of vitamins, neurotransmitters, amino acids and enzymes makes it a highly important aspect of overall health and well-being. The microbiome community in our guts is diverse, and it is important that we provide the microbiome with the nutrients it requires to thrive. Advances in technology are enabling this personalised microbiome approach to diet - AI and wearable technology are providing deeper insights into this microbiome-diet interaction, which will only progress personalised nutrition and its specificity.8

Implementing personalised nutrition

Techniques and tools used in personalised nutrition assessments

Several sophisticated tools through technological advancements and progression in genomics have been developed for personalised nutrition assessment:

Nutrigenetics 

Nutrigenetics is the study of the relationship between specific genes and foods/nutrients. Certain people have phenotypes that are known to be sensitive to specific foods.9

Nutrigenomics

Nutrigenomics assesses the difference in gene expression once diet intervention has taken place. Before a diet intervention takes place, genome sequencing of the individual can take place to provide a comprehensive overview of the DNA of that individual. After diet intervention, the genome can be sequenced again and any differences can be identified through comparison.1 

Metabolomics

Metabolomics is the study of metabolites. Metabolites are by-products produced during chemical reactions that occur in cells. Chemical reactions are integral to sustaining life and serve many different functions in the body. Through analysing metabolites present in individuals after diet intervention, a metabolite profile can be created, which is used to identify foods to which an individual responds better. Certain metabolites produced are known to be implicated in certain disorders, so knowing the response to certain foods through metabolite analysis can provide data that can help inform personalised nutrition plans.10 

Gut microbiome analysis

A gut microbiome profile can be created through stool analysis. Subsequent tests to identify specific microbes can then be utilised, such as DNA testing.11

Epigenetics

Epigenetics is the study of alterations to gene function that do not involve any changes to the DNA sequence. Changes in epigenetics due to diet can be used as a tool in personalised nutrition.12

Benefits of personalised nutrition

Improved dietary adherence and outcomes

As personalised nutrition is more tailored to the individual, it is likely that there will be improved adherence and compliance to a personalised diet. Some studies have supported this improved adherence to a personalised diet. However, more research is needed to establish this.13,14

There is conflicting evidence on the efficacy of personalised nutrition, however, this can be attributed to the diversity in study methods used. 

Prevention and management of chronic diseases

Through personalised nutrition, preventative measures can be taken to help avoid disease onset. The holistic approach that personalised nutrition takes, which includes genetic testing, microbiome analysis and metabolomics, means that early action can be taken. It is also important to consider any present conditions that the patient may have, to identify foods that should be avoided.

Enhancing overall well-being and quality of life

Personalised nutrition has the potential to enhance lives through improving diet and nutrition. Diet and nutrition are the foundations for good health, and they fundamentally influence the way the body functions. If we were able to predetermine which foods we should eat and shouldn’t eat, it could go a long way to preventing illness. 

Challenges and limitations

Accessibility and affordability of personalised nutrition services

One of the key challenges with incorporating personalised nutrition into healthcare is the accessibility and affordability. Personalised nutrition is expensive due to the cost of tests involved, such as genetic testing and data analysis. This can also lead to socioeconomic disparities.15

Ethical considerations related to genetic testing and privacy

Ethical considerations are another limitation when it comes to personalised nutrition. Informed consent and privacy with regard to storage and accessibility to data can make personalised nutrition more complicated. 

Lack of standardisation and regulation in the field

Personalised nutrition is a new field, and thus, its implication in the health industry requires further consideration. Currently, no standardised protocol has been put in place, and this is in part due to the disparity in study methods. 

Future directions

Advances in technology shaping the future of personalised nutrition

Enhanced computational infrastructure platforms would enable easier homogeneity across collected data. Currently, research methods vary and this can make it complicated for data storage and easy access. Advances in AI would also enable the development of more complicated computational models that could provide more in-depth and accurate analysis.16

Integration of personalised nutrition into healthcare systems

The integration of personalised nutrition into healthcare systems is a work in progress.  Factors such as cost, ethics, sustainability and training all need to be considered, and this is a complicated task.

Potential impact on public health and healthcare policies

Personalised nutrition has the potential to revolutionise health care. Through its tailored approach, it could significantly improve disease prevention and management, which in turn could lead to lower healthcare costs and reduced burden on the healthcare industry. 

Summary

Traditional nutrition advice has been based on a ‘one-size-fits-all approach. However, this does not take into consideration inter-person variation. Personalised nutrition is a new field that aims to create tailored nutritional plans for the individual. Advances in genetics and technology have enabled a greater understanding of how we respond differently to certain types of foods. By gathering data on nutrigenetics, metabolomics, epigenetics, and microbiome, a more comprehensive understanding of the response to foods can be provided. Personalised nutrition offers several benefits, including improved adherence and better health outcomes. Improved disease prevention and management, and also improved overall well-being. Though promising, personalised nutrition does have its limitations. Factors that include cost, ethics, training, and sustainability are all obstacles that must be overcome, in addition to standardisation and regulation. With further research and technological advances, it could be possible that one day, personalised nutrition will become a reality.

References

  1. Ordovas JM, Ferguson LR, Tai ES, Mathers JC. Personalised nutrition and health. Bmj. 2018 Jun 13;361.
  2. Mathers JC. Paving the way to better population health through personalised nutrition. EFSA Journal. 2019 Jul;17:e170713.
  3. Riso P, Del Bo C, Vendrame S. Preventive effects of broccoli bioactives: role on oxidative stress and cancer risk. InCancer 2014 Jan 1 (pp. 115-126). Academic Press.
  4. Li WX, Dai SX, Zheng JJ, Liu JQ, Huang JF. Homocysteine metabolism gene polymorphisms (MTHFR C677T, MTHFR A1298C, MTR A2756G and MTRR A66G) jointly elevate the risk of folate deficiency. Nutrients. 2015 Aug 10;7(8):6670-87.
  5. Lan N, Lu Y, Zhang Y, Pu S, Xi H, Nie X, Liu J, Yuan W. FTO–a common genetic basis for obesity and cancer. Frontiers in genetics. 2020 Nov 16;11:559138.
  6. Yang LG, March ZM, Stephenson RA, Narayan PS. Apolipoprotein E in lipid metabolism and neurodegenerative disease. Trends in Endocrinology & Metabolism. 2023 Aug 1;34(8):430-45.
  7. Shaghaghi MA, Kloss O, Eck P. Genetic variation in human vitamin C transporter genes in common complex diseases. Advances in nutrition. 2016 Mar 1;7(2):287-98.
  8. Amati F, McCann LJ, Spector TD. The gut microbiome, health and personalised nutrition. Trends in Urology & Men's Health. 2022 May;13(3):22-5.
  9. Barrea L, Annunziata G, Bordoni L, Muscogiuri G, Colao A, Savastano S, Obesity Programs of Nutrition, Education, Research and Assessment (OPERA) Group. Nutrigenetics—personalised nutrition in obesity and cardiovascular diseases. International journal of obesity supplements. 2020 Jul;10(1):1-3.
  10. Naureen Z, Cristoni S, Donato K, Medori MC, Samaja M, Herbst KL, Aquilanti B, Velluti V, Matera G, Fioretti F, Iaconelli A. Metabolomics application for the design of an optimal diet. Journal of Preventive Medicine and Hygiene. 2022 Jun;63(2 Suppl 3):E142.
  11. Allaband C, McDonald D, Vázquez-Baeza Y, Minich JJ, Tripathi A, Brenner DA, Loomba R, Smarr L, Sandborn WJ, Schnabl B, Dorrestein P. Microbiome 101: studying, analysing, and interpreting gut microbiome data for clinicians. Clinical gastroenterology and hepatology. 2019 Jan 1;17(2):218-30.
  12. Missong H, Joshi R, Khullar N, Thareja S, Navik U, Bhatti GK, Bhatti JS. Nutrient-Epigenome interactions: Implications for personalised nutrition against ageing-associated diseases. The Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry. 2024 Feb 5:109592.
  13. Cena H, Calder PC. Defining a healthy diet: evidence for the role of contemporary dietary patterns in health and disease. Nutrients. 2020 Feb;12(2):334.
  14. Moore JB. From personalised nutrition to precision medicine: the rise of consumer genomics and digital health. Proceedings of the Nutrition Society. 2020 Aug;79(3):300-10.
  15. Adams SH, Anthony JC, Carvajal R, Chae L, Khoo CS, Latulippe ME, Matusheski NV, McClung HL, Rozga M, Schmid CH, Wopereis S. Perspective: guiding principles for the implementation of personalised nutrition approaches that benefit health and function. Advances in nutrition. 2020 Jan 1;11(1):25-34.
  16. Verma M, Hontecillas R, Tubau-Juni N, Abedi V, Bassaganya-Riera J. Challenges in personalised nutrition and health. Frontiers in Nutrition. 2018 Nov 29;5:117.
This content is purely informational and isn’t medical guidance. It shouldn’t replace professional medical counsel. Always consult your physician regarding treatment risks and benefits. See our editorial standards for more details.

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