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Nutrigenomics : When genes decide what we should eat

What if you could eat specific foods to prevent diseases? While this idea may seem exaggerated, researchers are looking for a method to provide this type of information. Scientists say that within a few years a basic DNA test will allow us to create personalized diets for each individual.

Nutrigenomics is a new scientific field which studies the effects of food on the functioning of genes, aiming to combat diseases such as diabetes, heart disease and cancer. This discipline studies how DNA is transcribed into our RNA messenger and how the genetic information is then used for protein synthesis, providing, in the same time, a basis for understanding the biological activity of food components.

Throughout the twentieth century, scientists have focused on the identification of vitamins and minerals that could prevent certain diseases. The importance of their research has grown as the emergence and development of nutrition – related diseases increased.

The role of nutrition has been and continues to be extensively studied. To prevent the development of diseases , nutritionists investigate ways to optimize and maintain the homeostasis of cells, of tissues and organs.

nutrients and food

Nutritional genomics

But before they can determine exactly how this optimization would work, they must understand how nutrients act at the molecular level. This new approach involves the genes, the proteins, the reactions of the metabolism and the interactions which envisage nutrients.

Therefore, the research has changed from epidemiology and physiology to molecular biology and genetics, being created in this way the nutrigenomics.

The development of nutrigenomics was possible due to the evolution of the genetic research. The genetic differences between individuals, which clearly affect the metabolism, have been recognized since the beginning of this discipline.

Scientists have revealed that the disorders in the human organism are closely related to the genetic origin. Thus, there were discovered genetic defects which cause pathological effects. For example, the polymorphism in the gene codifies the synthesis of leptin hormone, a defect which leads to obesity.

However, it was found that there may be thousands of other types of genetic polymorphism that could disturb the nutritional biochemistry.

Modern methods of study were not available since the emergence of the discipline, these being established recently. In nutrigenomics the nutrients are seen as signals that inform a particular cell in the body about the person’s diet. Nutrients are detected by a system of sensors in the cell which allows it to obtain information about the general context – the diet of the individual.

Scientists say that certain foods affect the functions of our genes. However, genes do not necessarily give rise to a particular destiny. Some people are born with genes known to be favoring the occurrence of cancer or heart diseases. In any case, this can be greatly influenced by one’s diet and lifestyle.

Currently, the only advice given by the specialists refers to the moderate consumption of meat and the benefits of eating fruits and vegetables. In a few years time, the nutrigenomics will allow each individual to know exactly the foods which may help him avoid certain diseases.

Universities all across the world have developed studies to find out the healing proprieties of foods. Although this topic has been debated for many years, the efforts of identifying the effects that a specific type of food has on each individual is a relatively new concept.

For example, it has been discovered that women with a certain genetic profile which consume large amounts of cruciferous vegetables (cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli) have a 50% lower risk of developing breast cancer. Moreover, cruciferous vegetables contain chemicals which may help destroy cancer cells.

Many of these studies are in early stages, requiring exhaustive research in order to be correctly verified. However, scientists say that today there is a solid platform for research on foods and that people can now benefit from the advice of nutritionists on what they should or should not eat, according to their family history and their health.

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