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You are what you eat — genetic analysis and food science the basis for a healthy diet

An EU-funded project is using individual genetic data to recommend a customised healthy diet based on scientific evidence of foods that are linked to risks of age-related diseases.

Digital Economy

A number of age-related diseases with high rates of mortality have been found to be affected by the food we eat. But with consumers already facing information overload on what constitutes healthy eating, EU-funded scientists have developed an innovative platform for nutritionists to recommend a better diet based on reliable scientific evidence. The Nutrition 3G tool developed under the EU-funded Nutri4g project uses gene analysis to assess the risk of each of the age-related diseases and combines this with known data on links between these conditions and certain foods, to provide customised dietary recommendations. “This is based on the scientific evidence that you can reduce the risk of certain diseases using nutrition,” says Javier Campión Zabalza, scientific director for MG Nutrición 3G in Navarra, Spain, the company that developed the platform. It is already known that particular foods can increase the risk of developing age-related diseases, such as sugar (diabetes) or salt (hypertension). At the same time, some genes are known to be regulated by diet, so nutritional advice can play a role in the onset, incidence and progression of chronic diseases. “We chose eleven diseases which can show a genetic predisposition and where we have the tools to prevent diseases using nutrition,” Dr Campión says. These include obesity, osteoporosis, hypertension, Type 2 diabetes, stroke, thrombosis, high cholesterol, age-related macular degeneration, arthrosis as well as kidney and gall stones. Genetic risk testing A patient’s DNA is collected through a single non-invasive mouth swab. “Then we use new-generation sequencing of different genetic variations associated with the diseases, using an algorithm that we have devised, in order to create a risk record for that individual,” Dr Campión explains. The Nutri4g platform then customises appropriate nutritional guidelines. “Our algorithm processes the risk for two or three diseases, so we can create a combination of the dietary guidelines in order to improve prevention,” he adds.”The dietary guidelines are completely individual. For example, if you are coeliac (gluten intolerant) or intolerant to lactose, if you are Muslim or of another culture where you cannot eat certain foods, this will be taken into account in the dietary recommendations.” The basic recommended diet is a Mediterranean diet recognised by nutritionists as being healthy. It is then modified according to the individual’s genetic risk profile. “If you obtain a medium risk for the diseases, or no risk, our system will recommend the Mediterranean diet.” Nonetheless, the system is flexible enough to adapt to new ongoing research on links between nutrition and disease onset, he says. Scientific basis At around EUR 180 for each report, it is a low-cost system but Dr Campión emphasises the importance of the scientific basis of the platform, avoiding media-led dietary fads. “The dietary guidelines we use are totally supported by scientific papers and the World Health Organisation and we use clinical guidelines for nutrition that are completely supported and proscribed by the professionals,” Dr Campión says. Much of the epidemiological data used in devising the algorithm comes from big public databases and includes clinical assays and scientific publications which provide evidence of nutrients linked to prevention of specific diseases. It draws on scientific literature produced within the past decade and prioritises studies of large cohorts of patients. Currently, the system is based on the genetic data of people of European and Hispanic ethnicity, with the company also planning to market the system in Latin America. However, it is also looking to expand to Asian ethnic groups and to include a wider range of diseases, such as cancers. “It will also be interesting to go beyond disease genetic risk and add lifestyle factors,” Dr Campión concludes.


Nutri4G, nutrition, diet, genetics, DNA, diabetes, stroke, osteoporosis, arthritis, thrombosis, hypertension, obesity, healthy ageing

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