Genetic testing services that tell us what to eat based on our DNA are everywhere now.
The Big Q: Will tailoring my diet to my genes lead to better health?
Scientists have quickly been unraveling the complex ways that genes impact overall health over the past few decades, especially since the completion of the Human Genome Project in 2004.
As more information becomes available, more companies spring up to tell us how knowing more about your unique genetic code can help optimize our health, which diseases we are more at risk for, which workouts are best and yes, DNA-based eating.
You’ve probably seen some of the biggest names in the space, like Habit, uBiome, Nutrigenomix,DNAFit, and FitnessGenes, all of which deliver personalized recommendations about what you should eat (and in some cases, how you should exercise) based on some version of a DNA test.
While some of these tests may provide a genuinely helpful bits they are generally based on science that is not yet established enough to rely on. Right now, there is no solid evidence that eating a certain diet based on your specific genes will make you slimmer, happier, or healthier.
There’s plenty of evidence eating more Organic vegetables will though.
Below are some details on how I see these conclusions, as follows:
Nutrigenomics is the study of how genes and nutrients interact, and we do know for sure that they do a lot of interacting. Specific foods and nutrients alter gene expression in major, complex ways, which in turn impact metabolic processes, and therefore, your overall wellbeing.
The relationship in the other direction is just as complicated and even less understood. Advocates of DNA-based diets point to some evidence that suggests people metabolize carbs, protein, and fats differently based on their genetic makeup, but there is no research that shows tailoring diet to that information will change your life. In other words, there have not been clinical trials to show these kinds of diets work, and a 2015 meta-analysis found the evidence is scant. “As solid scientific evidence is currently lacking, commercially available nutrigenomics tests cannot be presently recommended,” the authors concluded.
Reporters have also shown that results from tests on the market sometimes even contradict each other on the exact same genes.
In a deep-dive look at this topic on Wired, 1 researcher offered the journalist a metaphor that is super helpful when it comes to understanding why even when we know a gene may do one thing related to nutrition, in most cases we do not know what impact/if any making a habit switch based on that tiny piece of info will have.
“Alun Williams, a reader in sport and exercise genomics at Manchester Metropolitan University, told me that tying traits to DNA is like absorbing a book by reading only one word per page—you have information, but at the end you have no idea what the book was actually about. Throughout a person’s life, environmental forces, such as how frequently you exercise or what you eat are constantly changing your genome. In short, fitness, like other complex traits including height and alcoholism, doesn’t come down to just a handful of genes—there could be hundreds or thousands that play a part.”
The few cases where there are exceptions.
The founder of Nutrigenomix said “There’s research now showing that people who get DNA-based dietary advice are more likely to follow recommendations.”
So if it works, it could be because subconsciously you take the recommendations, which in many cases would be the same kind of advice you might get from any nutritionist, more seriously simply because someone told you it was made for your body, the tests are not inexpensive.
Someday we all be eating food perfectly tailored to our unique genetic profile, it will happen.
But, for now, remember what I said about Organic vegetables, eat them.
Eat healthy, Be healthy, Live lively,