Nutrigenomics: The Future of Food

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Article: Nutrigenomics

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Nutrigenomics: The Future of Food





According to Nutrilite Research Scientist Aaron Crawford, we are on the verge of an exciting new frontier in nutritional science - Nutrigenomics.

A quick survey of the people around you convincingly confirms that you are unique in many ways. Nobody has quite the same chin, the same earlobes, the same smile, or the same nose that you have.

You're different, you're unique - you stand out. And that's because you have unique DNA - a different combination of over three billion different base pairs made of a very simple alphabet (ACGT) that nobody else on the planet has, or ever will have.

But the uniqueness of your genetic code isn't expressed just on the outside of your body; it also dictates how each cell on the inside of your body - such as in your heart, your brain and your liver - responds to different signals in your everyday life.

For example, your neighbour or your spouse may eat almost the same diet as you, and yet respond to it very differently. You may have an elevated cholesterol level, yet your neighbour who cooks steaks on the barbeque every night may be just fine and have no concerns about consuming cholesterol-rich foods in the diet. On the other hand, you may be able to eat everything in sight and not gain an ounce, while your neighbour merely needs to look at a sugary confection to take the belt out an extra notch. Such are the quirks of the genetic code - some of us are able to cash in on the genetic lottery while others seemingly never get a break.

"The point is, just as we look very different on the outside, we are also very different on the inside," explains Nutrilite Scientist Aaron Crawford.

"We all respond to food in different ways, based on our own internal genetic code. This field of research, called Nutrigenomics, is a very active area of research these days, and investigates the interaction between nutrition and genetics. The results of this groundbreaking research are just beginning to be applied to human health and nutrition."

Thousands of Phytonutrients
We all know that a healthy diet is important to our long-term health, says Crawford.

"Fruits and vegetables provide essential vitamins and minerals, as well as phytonutrients, while fish provide important omega-3 fatty acids, and dairy products provide much-needed calcium. Our bodies require these nutrients on a daily basis in order to function optimally," says Crawford. "But in addition to essential nutrients, such as vitamin C, folic acid and calcium, we also need other nutrients from our diet for optimal health."

According to Crawford, the role of many other nutrients, such as phytonutrients from fruits and vegetables, is not as well understood as classic vitamins such as vitamin C and vitamin E, but doesn't make them any less important in the scheme of optimal health.

"Scientific and medical research underscores the importance of a fruit and vegetable-rich diet, as people who tend to eat a plentitude of healthy fruits and vegetables are generally rewarded with a longer life and a reduced risk of chronic disease.

"According to recent research, that's because fruits and vegetables are rich in phytonutrients - plant compounds such as lutein, lycopene, anthocyanins, phenolic acids, flavonoids and carotenoids - that help protect the cells of the body against a barrage of insults and potential damage."

Fruits and vegetables contain thousands of different phytonutrients and each phytonutrient has a specific chemical structure that makes it unique.

"Very small changes in chemical structure can have a very profound impact on the ways the cells of your body respond - so you need to make sure that you are sending the right signals to the cells of your body by eating the right foods," explains Crawford.

"Each fruit and vegetable has a very unique combination of phytonutrients - some of which provide greater health benefits than others."

Nutritional Revolution
According to Crawford, the human population is on the verge of understanding the next frontier of nutritional science and applying it to improved nutrition and health.

That new frontier is called Nutrigenomics, and it explores how food not only nourishes the body, but how it instructs the body to respond at a cellular level. That is, food not only tastes good and provides nutrients; it also induces cells of the body to respond in a specific way. And some types of foods such as fruits and vegetables are better for you than other types.

"Consider, for example, the many health benefits of tomatoes," says Crawford.

Did you know that a study conducted by Harvard researchers demonstrated that men who eat the most tomatoes have the lowest risk of prostate cancer? Like all fruits and vegetables, tomatoes contain thousands of different phytonutrients - but one in particular appears to be especially beneficial for men. It turns out that tomatoes are very rich in lycopene (lycopene is the pigment in tomatoes that gives them their characteristic red color). Lycopene isn't just abundant in tomatoes - it is also very abundant in prostate cells of men."

But what does lycopene do in these cells? That's where Nutrigenomics comes in, says Crawford.

"Researchers have recently discovered that lycopene may be important in regulating the expression of specific genes in prostate cells, a set of genes that supports the growth of prostate cells and encourages them to proliferate," he says.

"When prostate cells are grown in the laboratory in the presence of lycopene, this growth signal is inhibited; hence lycopene from tomatoes may specifically instruct cells of the prostate not to grow by regulating the expression of genes found in the DNA of prostate cells. These experimental results are very exciting, and may be important in understanding how eating tomatoes may reduce the risk of prostate cancer in men."

Tomatoes, however, aren't the only foods rich in phytochemicals that regulate gene expression. Scientists are constantly identifying active phytochemicals in our diet that influence gene expression in cell types throughout the body.

"Almost any fruit or vegetable that you can name including blackberries, grapes, artichokes, soybeans, tea leaves, cranberries, even cocoa beans interact with specific cells in the body to regulate gene expression," says Crawford.

Nutrilite Research into Nutrigenomics
"Nutrigenomics is a very active area of research at Nutrilite, where we are investigating how plant concentrates influence the expression of a wide range of different genes in different cell types," reveals Crawford.

"We have partnered with a leading biotechnology firm in this field - Interleukin Genetics to move our research forward. In this collaborative research we are employing bio-assays to screen large numbers of plant extracts through a variety of assays to identify the most promising candidates that influence gene expression in a potentially beneficial way. Based on these experimental results, the best performing extracts will be selected to further analyse in clinical studies to determine potential health benefits in the body."

Crawford explains that bio-assays are an especially powerful method to screen a large number of plant materials for very specific activities.

"For example, we can use bio-assays to determine whether a specific plant that we grow on our organic farms has an activity that reduces inflammation, improves skin health, inhibits cholesterol synthesis, modulates the immune system or triggers the synthesis of specific enzymes. Because we can test hundreds of different plant extracts in these assays, we can identify the most promising plant materials that yield the greatest benefit defined by genetic expression tests."

An Exciting Future
"The human body is very complex, and responds to hundreds of environmental, visual, emotional and dietary cues with every breath that we breathe, on a level that we are just beginning to understand," says Crawford.

"As a result, the field of Nutrigenomics is obviously very complex as well - but it is clear that this field of exciting nutritional research is the way of the future. By understanding how food - and more specifically how the phytonutrients in plants - cause specific genetic responses at the cellular level we will begin to understand how to harness the power of plants to improve our health.

Because of our strategic partnerships with leading research groups such as Interleuken Genetics, Nutrilite is extremely well positioned to lead the way in this exciting arena of nutrition research."

Blueprint of life

Genes are the blueprint for our bodies, governing factors such as growth, development and functioning. Almost every cell in the human body contains a copy of the blueprint, stored inside a special sac called the nucleus. The chromosomes contained in the nucleus are long strands of a chemical substance called deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA).

A fault in a gene can occur spontaneously or can be inherited and can cause a wide range of disorders. To date, scientists have identified faults in around 1,500 genes that can lead to a specific genetic disorder. Genetic experts believe around half of the Australian population will be affected at some point in their life by an illness that is at least partly genetic in origin.

Genetic disorders can happen in three ways:

  • The fault in the gene (mutation) happens spontaneously in the formation of the egg or sperm, or at conception.
  • The faulty gene is passed on from parent to child and may directly cause a problem that affects the child at birth or later in life.
  • The faulty gene is passed on from parent to child and may cause a genetic susceptibility. Environmental factors, such as diet and exposure to chemicals, combine with this susceptibility to trigger the onset of the disorder.

Interleukin genetics
Interleukin Genetics, based in the USA, has become an industry leader in the field of biotechnology. The company's core mission is to develop genetic tests to inform people about an increased risk for disease and to develop preventive and therapeutic options to avoid those diseases.

The company is among the world's leaders in understanding the genetics of inflammation and its scientists and clinicians work in three major fields:

  1. Studying how common variations in several genes affect an individual's response to injuries caused by chronic diseases or disabilities such as coronary artery disease, diabetes, osteoporosis and Alzheimers disease.
  2. Investigating how non-drug interventions such as nutritional supplements can improve genetically influenced risks for such disorders.
  3. Studying how variations in these genes may affect an individual's response to drug therapy, a field known as pharmacogenetics.

The company is currently in genetic testing to find a cure for coronary artery disease and a possible cure for arthritis and believes its study of the role of inflammation in Coronary Artery Disease (CAD) will play an important role in helping to reduce deaths from heart disease.

In March 2003, Interleukin Genetics entered into an alliance with Alticor, Inc. and pursuant to that agreement is currently developing a cardiovascular risk assessment test.

Aaron Crawford PH.D, Research Scientist, Nutrition Science Services, Nutrilite
Dr Crawford spends much of his time investigating new scientific and medical research into Nutrilite/NUTRIWAY products. He has a strong background in Cell and Molecular Biology, has a Doctorate in Cell Biology, holds a Bachelor's Degree in Botany, and is a member of the American Medical Writers Associaion.

'Reproduced with the permission of Amway of Australia, ABN 49 004 807 756".
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