Development Food Health

Why Is Nutrigenomics The Biggest Flop In Digital Health?


By Bertalan Meskó, MD, PhD

If somebody had told me five years ago that I’d sooner review an A.I. guided portable ultrasound device than a nutrigenomics test, I would have laughed so hard. Yet, here we are, this ultrasound test is almost a year old now, and where is a nutrigenomics test I could finally lay my hands on? Not even close.

This is THE digital health technology I have been waiting for the longest and still had no chance to try. At the moment I can’t name a single service, a single direct-to-consumer (DTC) solution focusing on this area while being available and being backed by scientific evidence.

Why is that? I can name four reasons.

But first, let’s explore, what is nutrigenomics at all?

In simple terms, a science that aims to understand how specific humans react differently to specific nutrients due to their individual genetic characteristics, and how we can utilise this knowledge for each individual.

In even simpler terms: a promise of an advancement that can provide you with scientifically backed data on what, how, and when you should eat and what to avoid – based on your DNA.

The more scientific definition by Nature goes like this: “nutrigenomics is the study of the effects of food and food constituents on gene expression, and how genetic variations affect the nutritional environment. It focuses on understanding the interaction between nutrients and other dietary bioactives with the genome at the molecular level, to understand how specific nutrients or dietary regimes may affect human health.”

Reason 1: It is extremely challenging to learn nutritionally guiding principles from genetic tests

The first reason why we are not even close to fulfilling my dream about a tech providing omnipotent guidance for how and what I should (and should not) eat is that genetic test results tell us a million things, but we need something very specific here.

For a reliably working nutrigenomics test, scientists should be able to draw definitive conclusions from our DNA regarding the specific metabolism-related effects this or that protein causes.

We are getting somewhere with bordering areas of science, like food intolerance and food allergy tests – but these are not based on our genetics. Similarly, nutritional guidance can be based on our microbiome (the important collective of our gut bacteria), but then again, this is not focusing on our genes in this generalised way.

Reason 2: Pricing will be very tricky

Even if we had the scientific toolset to provide the genetically backed data we need for a reliably working nutrigenomics test, chances are it would not come at a price people would be willing to pay.

Just as 23andMe had to offer its solution underpriced to build a wide enough customer base (and acquire enough data they can sell to pharma companies to make up for that fat red minus at the bottom of their earnings report), a reliably working nutrigenomics test would likely be way too expensive for us everyday folks.

Reason 3: Nutrigenomics will not offer easy fixes for fast results

Whether we like it or not, we live in an era of quick fixes. A nutrigenomics test would definitely not provide simple, easy-to-follow solutions offering striking results in just 7 days. Without efforts.

I wonder how many customers would be happy to dive into a definite knowledge pack that almost certainly demanded lifestyle and nutritional changes, and adaptation of a dietary regime that could only offer benefits in the long run.

Of course, we all know (deep down) that this is the way, for having the health benefits of eating healthily we should actually eat healthily for years and decades. For the benefits of being sporty, we should exercise multiple times a week for years and decades.

But having it written once and for all, based on our DNA? That might not be a thing masses of people will internalise quickly and happily.

Reason 4: All you see is bogus, fake science everywhere

The online world is just full of bogus solutions, services, and products that at first seem scientific, and it would make even the most experienced researcher sweat to try and find a single credible solution in this mass offering of snake oil wonders. How could an everyday person see through this jungle? It certainly is not an easy feat.

All in all

Of course, we are not giving up hope to be among the first ones to test a reliably working, accessible, DTC nutrigenomics test. While this time arrives, I will figuratively put nutrigenomics on my shelf of flops, right next to my – very solid – 3D printed cast.

About the author

Byron Adonis Mutingwende