(NaturalNews) Kansas State University (K-State) researchers have joined a growing number of scientists who say a relatively new medical field known as nutrigenomics could change the future of public health forever. How? By tailoring strategies to prevent diseases before they can happen -- diseases that might otherwise be in a person's future because of his or her genetic makeup.
The key to this revolutionary stop-disease-before-it-happens strategy isn't a new drug, vaccine or sophisticated gene therapy. Instead, it is eating specific foods.
K-State researchers recently published an academic journal article in Food Technology outlining the potential for nutrigenomics, a field that studies the effects of food on gene expression. Simply put, scientists could eventually recommend specific foods for an individual based on his or her genetics that will prevent future diseases -- especially those that tend to "run in families", such as certain cancers, type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular diseases and even obesity.
"Nutrigenomics involves tailoring diets to someone's genetic makeup," Koushik Adhikari, K-State assistant professor of sensory analysis, said in a statement to the media. "I speculate that in five to 10 years, you would go to a genetic counselor or a physician who could help you understand your genetic makeup, and then a nutritional professional could customize your diet accordingly."
Nutrigenomics combines molecular biology, genetics and nutrition to pinpoint how gene expression can be regulated through specific nutrients. That's important because nutrients have been shown to affect gene expression through transcription factors (biochemical entities that bind to DNA and either promote or inhibit transcription of genes).
Nutrigenomics does not involve genetically modifying a food's DNA by splicing and adding genes. Instead, nutrigenomics focuses on using foods' natural phytochemicals, nutrients and other components to promote better health. And while current mainstream medicine's preventive recommendations that involve diet -- such as eat plenty of fruits and vegetables to lower the risk of cancer -- are generalities for the overall population, nutrigenomics research involves developing specific health recommendations that can be modified to an individual's needs.
"Scientists are looking at the molecular mechanisms in the body," Adhikari explained in the media statement. "At the molecular level, you can look at what specific nutrients can do to your body that would trigger genes to act properly, in a healthy way."
"That is where I think the main focus of nutrigenomics is going to be in the future," Adhikari said. "It could tell you that you have the propensity for certain chronic diseases so that you could modify your diet accordingly." He added, for example, that with a better understanding of how nutrients alter gene expression, there is a potential that food could be used instead of medication to combat problems like high cholesterol.
K-State researchers in human nutrition are currently working on these kinds of studies. For example, they are investigating the impact plant chemicals have on preventing different types of cancers. They are also studying how the Chinese fruit known as wolfberry could be used to improve vision. These research projects are designed to not only answer whether specific nutrients prevent a disease, but also how they exert their health benefits.