Nutrition and Genes: Decoding the Genome and What It Means For You and Dietitians

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The area of nutrition and genes is exciting, but overwhelming at the same time. It is an interesting new and evolving specialty within nutrition and dietetics. I can’t wait for the time when knowledge in this area becomes mainstream for all dietitians.

I had a friend ask me what I thought of nutritional genomics. It kind of threw me as I didn’t have my dietitian ‘hat’ on, and it was such a good question – something I would expect from future generations. The conversation we had prompted me to do some reading of the research.

The way this area is evolving, as seen in the last decade, nutritional genomics is just around the corner.  Genetic test results will give health professionals an added understanding of client/patient’s needs in the context of their environment. Nutritional genomics adds an extra layer of understanding to nutritional intake, for optimising health and preventing disease throughout the life cycle.

Nutritional genomics is another tool in the dietitian’s tool kit and should be used in combination with our other assessment tools. It’s a bit like what we do now with considering family history, however, we will be able to get more information from a different angle. I see it as another piece of the puzzle. I understand that genetics will not be used to diagnose nutrition issues. It may help client’s/patient’s to focus on what to do more of, for maximum benefit and reducing the risk of developing chronic diseases. It may even show what foods are not the best for individuals (ie. coffee, lactose, high load of poor quantities of carbohydrate, salt), which is what my client’s love to ask me all the time. It will be great to get a different perspective on absorption, digestion and metabolism issues which can influence disease. The conclusion I made from my understanding of the current literature and other research, is that the general healthy eating messages will unlikely change.

For some, genetic testing may be cost prohibitive to start off with, and it may not even change the dietitian’s recommendations. Nutritional genomics may be great for people who have low motivation to changing, as the recommendations will be even more focused and specific.

For now, our healthy eating guidelines are the gold standard for population health and nutritional genomics may not change what healthy eating is for people who already eat a balanced diet via eating intuitively.

Interaction between genes and diet is so complex.

Genetic variation certainly has an important influence on human nutritional requirements. The current population guidelines categorises people into sub groups by gender, age, pregnancy and lactation. I wonder how future population health messages and guidelines will incorporation the evolving understanding of genetics. I’m thinking the population sub group list will likely grow based on genotypes, and recommendations based on location may be included, which is particularly relevant to Vitamin D absorption.

For more information on nutrition and genes read http://www.thinkingnutrition.com.au/nutritional-genomics/

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What do you think about the area of nutrition, genes and health? I’d also love to hear from Dietitians and other Health Professionals about what nutritional genomics means currently and what it will mean for you in the future.

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