Nutrigenomics emerged lately in food science and dieting similarly to blockchain: it shows the way into the future, but sometimes seems to be hijacked by companies yearning for attention but not having the proper science to back up their products. As many people have no idea what nutrigenomics entails, not to speak about what it should, The Medical Futurist decided to show what nutrigenomics means, where the technology stands at the moment and what it could bring in the future.

Food shopping and eating out in 2068

Mathilda had her full genome sequenced in school as part of the general health check-up. Her parents didn’t only receive a pharmacogenomic overview of how her body metabolizes drugs, but also a nutrigenomic report on what she should eat and what kind of food sorts are to avoid at all cost. When she turned 18, her parents handed over the access to the cloud storing her health data and told her that now she is responsible for choosing her own diet. When Mathilda went online for the first time to buy original Peruvian coffee beans as she finally wanted to try real coffee, she got a notification on her smartphone that her body cannot process caffeine effectively and she should reconsider her choice.

At first, she thought that’s nonsense and bought the beans anyway. However, after the package arrived by drone delivery and the robotic assistant of the family, Maya, made the coffee for her in the afternoon, she couldn’t sleep until four in the morning. Next time, when the little bee-shaped dietary assistant on her smartphone appeared with some food advice, she accepted. She went to a restaurant with a friend, had two favorite meals on the menu and asked the smart algorithm which one would be more advisable to choose.

That’s how we imagine nutrigenomics in action in the future shaping what, how and when we should eat. However, we are far far away from this scenario. Most people don’t know what, how and when to eat – and even if the majority learned the basics of dietetics, they might not get the right diet. As in the last couple of years, nutrigenomics started to batter at our door, that might change.


The basics of nutrigenomics

While the science of nutrigenomics appeared approximately 15 years ago, the idea that food affects people differently has been around for centuries. Roman poet and philosopher, Lucretius already said at around the first century B.C. that what is food to one, is to others bitter poison. However, we arrived recently at a stage where we can explain the reasons for this phenomenon.

It’s amazing that according to individuals vary at the genetic level by about 1 in 1300 bases, so any 2 individuals share about 99.97 percent. So all the differences between people are to be found in the remaining 0.03 percent – which actually still means thousands and thousands of single nucleotide variants where all the difference is made.

In a nutshell, genomics in general and nutrigenomics, in particular, look at your genetic map and try to explain your tendencies to react to your environment in your own unique way. In the words of Neil Grimmer, Founder & CEO of Habit, a California-based start-up focusing on personalizing meal plans based on genetic background, “nutrigenomics looks at your genetic makeup and how it affects the way your body processes food. It’s about how our unique biology interacts with the food we consume. This means that when thinking about nutrigenomics, we need to think about more than just our genes. We also need to think about how proteins and other metabolites respond to the foods we eat.”


Nutrigenomics is the blockchain of food science

With the advancement of genetics and as the number of ventures offering direct-to-consumer genetic testing services is skyrocketing, there are more and more companies providing nutrigenomic assistance. However, while we believe the raison d’etre and the significance of the area is beyond doubt, in many cases, companies producing nutritional supplements hijack attention and/or point to shady science as the point of departure for their services.

As hundreds of ventures are trying to find their niche on the DTC genetic testing market with all available marketing means, and it is more and more difficult for customers to separate the wheat from the chaff. Moreover, as nutrigenomics sounds like an exciting new area – who would not be affected by food, eating or genetics? – its “buzzwordification” started to reach blockchain levels. What does that mean? As Reuters explained in its analysis, the average share price of companies who have jumped on the blockchain bandwagon and visualized the change at least in their name has risen more than threefold since their re-branding.

Thus, the constant flux of the nutrigenomic market, the tendency to overhype the technology and the scarcity of hard scientific evidence make it difficult to give a precise overview of the industry.


A California-based nutrigenomic guru: Habit

Still, we gathered some information about existing companies. The Medical Futurist has the most direct knowledge about Habit – but unfortunately, we could not try their services as it is not possible to ship their genetic testing kit to Europe. So, if you live in the US, and want to ground your dieting in genomics, you can order a Habit test. Then you send back their required blood sample kit, do their so-called “metabolic challenge” and provide a series of body metrics like height, weight, and waist circumference as well as lifestyle habits like how often a person walks, runs, or exercises. All of this analysis leads to a personalized meal plan of foods that work best for the user’s body.

Grimmer told us, that “DNA alone is not enough to make substantial nutrition recommendations”. Habit measures over 70 different biomarkers, which include nutrition-related blood markers, how these markers change in response to a proprietary metabolic challenge beverage, and genetic variations within your DNA. Each Habit customer also provides several body metrics, including body weight, height, waist circumference, as well as their personal health goals, which are all combined to create a custom nutrition plan.

To back up their operations with scientific evidence, Habit said they partnered with TNO, a leading European independent research organization, and they have a scientific advisory board and laboratory test pathway in conjunction with a third party CLIA-certified lab.


A snapshot of the nutrigenomic palette

By all means, several more companies are offering similar services to that of Habit. Arivale uses a blood sample to analyze your genes and then pairs you with a nutritionist to explain the best eating plan for your body. DNAFit also analyses a person’s DNA and their genetic variations to give them a personalized workout and diet plan. Olympic athlete Greg Rutherford swears that DNAFit helped him to hone his exercise regime, and apparently, it is linked to 23andme as well as, but we haven’t tested it so far. Nutrino, an AI nutrition analysis platform, offers individuals the “FoodPrint Report”, a digital signature of how specific foods affect an individual’s body. It compiles users’ health information gathered through wearables and analyzes the food’s impact on health markers such as glucose levels.

Austin-based GXsciences apparently not only offers nutrigenomic, but also pharmacogenomic testing, and has various panels for potential genetic conditions. The Medical Futurist would generally be cautious with companies whose offers seem to be too good to be true – but we don’t have experience with Gxsciences either.

Mydiet exclusively offers nutrigenomic services, nevertheless, their website has only one link to a research article, which reveals just too little about the company’s research background. However, we are always open to testing and finding out more about digital health as well as DTC genetic testing ventures, so send us materials or tests, and we’ll be more than happy to try them.


Without a doubt, technology and new scientific findings have an impact on food and eating. In the future, we might get to know better what we eat and what and how we should eat. There might be pocket-sized sensors on the table to test food for gluten, peanut or any other allergens. You might use dietary chatbots to tell you what to choose from the menu. Smart forks or chopsticks might nudge you to eat more slowly or help you with lifting the cutlery while your hands are shaking. In the saturated market of new tools for eating, nutrigenomics might become another means to generate insights into how and what we should or shouldn’t eat.

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