Genetic testing to customize individual diets

Ongoing research suggests that genetic testing may soon be used to customize diets that promote a longer, healthier life.

For many people dieting is a lifelong battle. Some struggle to lose weight, while others aim to be healthy. With so many fad diets on the market, how does a person decide which method works the best? For those of you interested in finding the perfect eating pattern for you, there might be hope in the near future.

In the February 2014 edition of Cell Metabolism, a peer-reviewed scientific journal, new research was published that identified a collection of genes that are influenced by dietary intake. Research from scientists Sean Curran and Shanshan Pang at the University of South Carolina has found that organisms can adapt to different diets. The research suggests that organisms have a genetic basis that determines dietary needs and will thus thrive on certain nutrients. Curran states “gene mutations can change the ability of an organism to utilize specific nutrients, small differences in a person’s genetic makeup that change how well these genes function, which could explain why some diets work for some people but not others.”

Caenorhabditis elegans (C. elegans) are worms that have a similar genetic makeup to humans. They were used in this study and have participated in research since the 1970’s. C. elegans have a short lifespan, which makes them ideal for aging studies. The gene identified in the worm, alh-6, delays the effects of aging depending on the type of nutrient the worm is fed.

This might lead you think that finding the perfect eating pattern for you is just one genetic test away. However, it might not be that simple. Previous research has indicated that environmental exposures such as diet can influence the expression of certain genes. The use of nutritional genomics (science that studies the relationship between the human genome, nutrition and health) is an emerging science in regard to complex chronic diseases and the use of genetic testing to guide dietary advice, may be premature.

The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, states that while nutritional genomics provides insight into how food and genetic interactions affect observable characteristics, such as development of diseases or behaviors of an organism, the use of genetic testing to guide dietary advice is not ready for routine dietary practice. Most registered dietitian nutritionists do not have enough knowledge in genetics to understand, interpret and communicate test results. Additionally, genetic testing is not strongly regulated and a healthcare provider is not typically involved in ordering the test or interpreting the results. Furthermore, the academy is rigid about having evidenced based practices that validate dietary recommendations that have health benefits and will not cause harm before supporting any clinical practice.

Even though genetic testing might sound like an easy way to find your perfect eating pattern, it appears that more research is needed, especially for humans in place of worms. In the meantime, it is important to focus on making healthy lifestyle and behavior changes that facilitate your goals of weight loss and improved health.

Michigan State University Extension programming promotes healthy lifestyles and educates Michigan residents, allowing each individual to acquire the skills to take control and manage his or her personal health, consume an affordable and nutritious diet, improve self, family and community relationships, reduce the spread of disease and to be a leader in the food industry. More information can be found at

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