As people become more aware of how specific food choices can affect their health, it's likely that the emerging field of "nutrigenomics" — which brings together nutrition and genetics in a novel way — could come into play.
Based on an individual's DNA, personalized nutrition plans could be designed to complement a person's unique genetic profile, and could have far-reaching implications for diseases that are linked to lifestyle factors, such as diabetes, heart disease and obesity.
The field emerged after the mapping of the human genome in 2000 created the possibility of more tailored approaches to health and nutrition. For example, one person may metabolize sugar differently than another, or have certain genetic markers for cancer or diabetes that would lead to a more personalized eating plan for reducing disease risk.
However, unlike other types of diets, nutrigenomics would face a significant hurdle for widespread adoption: data protection concerns.
In a recent study led by Newcastle University and published in the online journal PLOS ONE, more than 9,000 volunteers were surveyed about their willingness to adopt this type of personalized diet plan. Researchers found that protection of consumers' genetic data was a key, limiting factor, particularly since only a few companies offer genome information commercially.
Newcastle University Professor Lynn Frewer, who led the study, noted in a press release about the study, "The people we questioned could really see the benefits of this approach but said they were yet to be convinced that it would be worth the risk of handing over data about their DNA."
If data protection controls can be put into place effectively, Frewer and other nutrigenomics researchers believe that tweaking nutrition based on an individual's predisposition to certain diseases would be a significant step forward in creating an optimal diet.
"Nutrigenomics has the potential to be the next big thing in our fight against lifestyle-linked diseases," she said.