Diets can seem complicated. It’s common for people looking to lose weight or simply better their health to question if a particular diet is best suited for them. One person can be on a diet and shed pounds easily while for another, they may find that losing any weight on that particular diet is challenging. Those interested in eating healthy may not know where to start, and then there are those who are sensitive to different foods leaving them unsure of how to tackle the idea of a specific diet. With these thoughts in mind, new research is peering into the world of individual genetic makeup to see how this may play a part in how your body responds to the foods people eat.
One of the reason diets can be so tricky is because one diet is not going to be what works for everyone. Some people fare well with a higher carbohydrate intake while others seem to balloon at the mention of carbohydrates. Another example is sugar. Sugar is known for creating blood sugar spikes and many presume that processed sugars like cookies will not only be the cause of a blood sugar spike but also factor into weight gain. Information regarding natural sources of sugar found in fruit, on the other hand, have led people to believe that these sugars have less of a negative effect on your body, but a study done in 2015 revealed that volunteers had a greater blood sugar spike from bread and bananas rather than baked goods that were filled with sugar.
The U.S. National Institutes of Health recently announced that they will be doing a 5 year effort study, which will peer in on how 10,000 American individuals process food. Data will be collected, ranging from blood sugar levels to the effect consuming specific meals has on their gut microbiome. This study aims to probe the idea of ‘precision nutrition’ and has the potential to transform the field of nutrition science by generating new tools, methods and a plethora of data to fuel future discovery and science for years down the road. If all goes as projected, it could enable nutritionists to tailor specific meals to an individual’s genes and gut microbe as well as boost nutrition science which has been seen through a fuzzy lens for many years because of how challenging diets are to control.
This idea of how genes may play a role in the food people eat recognizes how the human body functions depending on certain factors like genetics, sleep habits, social environments, food consumption, and individual gut microbes. The example mentioned above was one of the studies that discovered individual differences in response to refined sugars versus natural sugars and how the community of microbes within the gut was largely responsible. With this said, NIH Director Francis Collins released a 10 year point specific plan for nutrition science acknowledging the significance of diet when it comes to chronic diseases like heart disease, autoimmune conditions, and diabetes. This plan aims to use basic disciplines like neurobiology, studying the role of diet across a lifespan, considering how food can serve as medicine, and elevating precision nutrition. It also plans to piggyback on the All of Us data and infrastructure to build on the health study that enrolled 272,000 participants with over 50% of them being minority groups.
Participants who join in on the nutrition study will be expected to wear various monitors to keep track of physical activity and blood sugar levels, have what they eat recorded after consuming tailored specific meals, and undergo tests at a clinic. A smaller number of participants will also follow three different diets at home or in the clinic along with having testing. Another number of volunteers will live in a clinical center for three 2 week stretches while eating very controlled meals. Studies such as these are often viewed as the gold standard but can be costly causing researchers to limit participants.
A wide range of personal data collected from the genetic makeup of the participants to their zip code will help the study to weed out unnecessary data that is collected from other factors not being measured. Once data is collected, models will be created to predict the best diet for an individual, and that data will eventually be tested in clinical trials. The NIH has opened the invite for proposals with hope to begin enrolling volunteers by January of 2023.