What is Nutrigenomics?

Emma Lloyd

The word nutrigenomics is a combination of nutrition and genomics. Together, these words describe a field which is concerned with the relationship between diet and gene expression. Nutrigenomic research investigates questions such as how food influences gene expression, and how genes influence the way individuals absorb and metabolize different types of nutrients.

Nutrigenomics may help uncover important details of the relationship between food and cardiovascular disease.
Nutrigenomics may help uncover important details of the relationship between food and cardiovascular disease.

Nutrigenomics is a word made from two other words, and in fact the field itself is a combination of several others. These include nutrition, genetics, genomics, proteomics, and metabolomics. Nutrition is concerned with how the body uses different types of food and nutrients, and the relationship between food and health. Genomics is the study of the entire genome of an organism, including all of its genes, and how they are regulated and expressed. Proteomics is a similar science which is concerned with proteins rather than genetic material. Genetics studies genes at the individual level, rather than studying an entire genome. Metabolomics is the study of the metabolism of individual cells, including its metabolic processes, products, and by-products.

One aspect of nutrigenomics is studying the relationship between food and health.
One aspect of nutrigenomics is studying the relationship between food and health.

All of these different disciplines are important in understanding the complex science of nutrigenomics. For example, the nutrients which are provided to cells affects cellular metabolism, and can also affect gene expression. In addition, the way in which cells metabolize nutrients can also affect gene expression. All of these factors are important because at the individual level, genetic variation heavily influences nutrient requirements, metabolism, and virtually all biological processes.

There are several important facts which guide the study of nutrigenomics. First, diet is considered an important risk factor for certain types of disease. Second, that dietary nutrients and chemicals can influence gene expression either directly or indirectly. Third, that some genes involved in the development of chronic diseases may be regulated by dietary factors. Fourth, that genetic variation among individuals can affect the way in which health and disease risk is influenced by diet. Taken together, all of these factors strongly imply that personalizing nutrition for individual people might be very useful in the prevention and treatment of chronic diseases.

Nutrigenomics has great potential to benefit medical science in the future. This rapidly-emerging field may help uncover important details of the relationship between food and certain types of cancer, type two diabetes, or cardiovascular disease, for example. The incidence and progress of all of these diseases are influenced by diet, but there is a large amount of genetic variation in how individual people are affected.

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Discussion Comments


@SkyWhisperer - You can’t deny that we are different, at the genetic level. So why should it be hard to understand that genes play a role in illness, along with nutrition, and that they both influence each other?

Two people can get the same disease yet have different reactions to the same illness. I accept that nutrition plays a role but I think a person’s genetic profile plays a role in how well that individual recovers from the illness.


@nony - I don’t buy the premise myself. If you ask me, we can all get cancer or diabetes or what have you.

The medical science is in, and there is a distinct relationship between diet and disease. Doctors have been forced to acknowledge this, although they have been slow to admit that a change in diet can reverse disease.

As for heavy set people being prone to illness, is their weight problem genetic or is it a result of lifestyle choices? I would argue the latter.

I know that we are revisiting the nature versus nurture argument here but I’ve learned so much about nutrition in the past few years that I believe many of our cherished assumptions are just not true.


I think it’s a good introduction to nutrigenomics research. I have to say that I agree with the underlying premise, that there is a distinctive connection between nutritional metabolism and the genetic makeup of individuals.

That’s why doctors say that certain types of people are more predisposed to cancer or diabetes or things like that. That doesn’t mean that these people are fated to have these diseases, only that they need to take extra precautions to make sure that they avoid those foods and lifestyle choices that trigger those conditions.

Unfortunately heavy set people tend to have a proclivity to certain illnesses for example. This seems to be true for a lot of sicknesses.

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