What is nutrigenetics and nutrigenomics?
This question is frequently asked by people who approach the world of genetics and its relationship with nutrition. In fact, it is very common to see both concepts used interchangeably, as if they were synonyms. Although both nutrigenetics and nutrigenomics are part of a broader field of study called Nutritional Genomics, there are differences between the two terms.
Nutrigenetics is the science that studies the response to nutrients or different components of the diet according to individual genetic differences, so that specific nutritional requirements can be determined from genetic variables, called polymorphisms, which are changes in the DNA sequence, present in at least 1% of the population (1). In addition, nutrigenetics studies the risk of developing diet-dependent diseases (e.g., obesity or type 2 diabetes).
Nutrigenomics, on the other hand, analyses the direct influence of nutrients on gene expression and health, as several studies have shown (2,3).
Figure 1. Nutritional genomics. Gene-nutrient interaction. Adapted from: (4)
In any case, what seems obvious is that the relationship between genetics and nutrition is a subject that is generating more and more interest. Human genome diet, genetic diet, etc., are common searches on Google and contents on this subject are frequent in publications and websites in different fields, from the most technical and scientific to the most informative, including lifestyle or fitness.
How does nutrigenetics apply to diet?
The primary function of diet is to provide the nutrients necessary to meet people’s nutritional needs. In addition, diet plays a key role in non-communicable diseases, such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and certain types of cancer. Nutrigenetics testing makes it possible to apply corrective measures and strategies to prevent these diseases based on the individual genetic profile, as well as to design specific diets that are more effective for each person (5,6).
Carrying out a nutrigenetic analysis provides a wealth of information on individual genetic differences, which can be used by health professionals to plan a diet according to the needs of each person. The following are some examples of the importance of different aspects affected by nutrigenetics.
- Nutrigenetics and Mediterranean diet
The health benefits of the Mediterranean diet are well known, and it is considered one of the healthiest dietary patterns in the world. In general, it is based on a daily intake of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts, fish, white meats, and olive oil. It may also include moderate consumption of fermented dairy products, low consumption of red meat and red/white wine in moderation at the main meal. It has been studied for its positive effect on cancer prevention, metabolic and cardiovascular balance in humans, and in recent years, studies have even been conducted on its influence on mental health (7).
It has also been studied as an effective diet for weight loss. In this field, advances in nutrigenetics have made it possible to determine polymorphisms (1) that determine the greater or lesser effectiveness of different types of diet, which can help people whose goal is weight loss to choose the most efficient diet.
For example, the PPARγ gene encodes a protein that regulates glucose metabolism and fatty acid storage, stimulating fat uptake and adipogenesis (formation of adipocytes, i.e., fat cells, from stem cells) (8). Specifically, a polymorphism in the PPARγ gene is associated with increased efficacy of the Mediterranean diet in weight loss (9).
2. Nutrigenetics and cholesterol
Cholesterol is a lipid of great physiological and pathological importance. Low-density lipoprotein (LDL, commonly known as “bad cholesterol”) is the most common form of cholesterol transport in the blood, from the liver to all cells in our body. High levels of LDL are associated with an increased risk of coronary artery disease. This occurs because excess LDL in the blood forms plaques in the arteries, known as atherosclerosis, causing hardening of the arteries, and consequently blocking or decreasing the flow of blood through the arteries (10,11).
Clinical conditions resulting from atherosclerosis include ischemic heart disease and stroke. According to the World Health Organization, ischemic heart disease is the leading cause of death worldwide, accounting for 16% of all deaths. In second place is stroke, accounting for 11% of all deaths (12).
Figure 2. Leading causes of death in the world (12).
It is therefore essential to control LDL blood levels to avoid major complications. Optimal LDL cholesterol levels are below 100 mg/dl. Several genetic variants influence the likelihood of having high or low LDL levels and are therefore indicative of risk. Among these genes is the HMGCR gene, which encodes the enzyme HMG-CoA reductase, a cholesterol synthesis limiting enzyme (13,14).
3. 24Genetics and nutrigenetics
24Genetics’ Nutrigenetics analysis includes, in addition to the above examples, specific markers related to the benefits of various diets, tendency to have high or low levels of various vitamins and minerals, as well as other factors related to diet and weight.
1. Polimorfismo | NHGRI [Internet]. [cited 2022 Apr 28]. Available from: https://www.genome.gov/es/genetics-glossary/Polimorfismo
2. Rogulska K, Strońska A, Grzeszczak K. The role of nutrigenetics in diet personalisation. Journal of Education, Health and Sport [Internet]. 2021 Aug 13 [cited 2022 Apr 27];11(8):75–9. Available from: https://apcz.umk.pl/JEHS/article/view/34942
3. [PDF] Paradigm Shift: an Overview on Nutrigenetics and Nutrigenomics | Semantic Scholar [Internet]. [cited 2022 Apr 27]. Available from: https://www.semanticscholar.org/paper/Paradigm-Shift%3A-an-Overview-on-Nutrigenetics-and-Ciaurelli-Origlia/fa02ef3bc256b054dabdc8166cc2bf4c313c6ba6
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6. Beckett EL, Jones PR, Veysey M, Lucock M. Nutrigenetics—Personalized Nutrition in the Genetic Age. 2017;
7. Ventriglio A, Sancassiani F, Contu MP, Latorre M, di Slavatore M, Fornaro M, et al. Mediterranean Diet and its Benefits on Health and Mental Health: A Literature Review. Clinical Practice & Epidemiology in Mental Health. 2020 Aug 4;16(1):156–64.
8. Ahmadian M, Suh JM, Hah N, Liddle C, Atkins AR, Downes M, et al. PPARγ signaling and metabolism: the good, the bad and the future. Nat Med [Internet]. 2013 [cited 2022 Apr 28];19(5):557–66. Available from: /pmc/articles/PMC3870016/
9. Garaulet M, Smith CE, Hernández-González T, Lee YC, Ordovás JM. PPARγ Pro12Ala interacts with fat intake for obesity and weight loss in a behavioural treatment based on the Mediterranean diet. Mol Nutr Food Res [Internet]. 2011 Dec [cited 2022 Apr 28];55(12):1771. Available from: /pmc/articles/PMC3951915/
10. Luo J, Yang H, Song BL. Mechanisms and regulation of cholesterol homeostasis. Nat Rev Mol Cell Biol [Internet]. 2020 Apr 1 [cited 2022 Apr 27];21(4):225–45. Available from: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/31848472/
11. Kattoor AJ, Pothineni NVK, Palagiri D, Mehta JL. Oxidative Stress in Atherosclerosis. Curr Atheroscler Rep [Internet]. 2017 Nov 1 [cited 2022 Apr 27];19(11). Available from: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28921056/
12. The top 10 causes of death [Internet]. [cited 2022 Apr 27]. Available from: https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/the-top-10-causes-of-death
13. Kathiresan S, Willer CJ, Peloso GM, Demissie S, Musunuru K, Schadt EE, et al. Common variants at 30 loci contribute to polygenic dyslipidemia. Nat Genet [Internet]. 2009 Jan [cited 2022 Apr 27];41(1):56. Available from: /pmc/articles/PMC2881676/
14. HMGCR Gene – GeneCards | HMDH Protein | HMDH Antibody [Internet]. [cited 2022 Apr 27]. Available from: https://www.genecards.org/cgi-bin/carddisp.pl?gene=HMGCR