The scientific community is grappling with a definition and not surprisingly there are many. For example, in a 2019 publication in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition, the authors proposed this one: “a field that leverages human individuality to drive nutrition strategies that prevent, manage and treat disease and optimize health.”
It’s not only the definition of the term but the term itself that scientific researchers and companies involved (or looking to get involved) in the market are looking to coin.
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For example, some experts refer to the concept as “personalized nutrition,” while others, including the National Institutes of Health (NIH), speak about “precision nutrition.” And still others refer to the concept as “individualized nutrition” or “nutritional genomics.”
The terms are used interchangeably but technically while they overlap each is slightly different and at its broadest definition, should be considered to intersect with other aspects of personal wellness, including personalized medicine.
The Role of Personalized Nutrition and Health
Whatever name ends up being the catchiest—although it’s more likely there will continue to be more than one—if you haven’t yet heard about personalized nutrition, you likely will soon (and not only in this blog).
In its most basic iteration, the theory is that good nutrition deserves more than a one-size-fits-all approach. But personalized nutrition is anything but basic.
Personalized, or precision, nutrition may end up becoming the future model for scientific research in studying nutrition, with new focus and new technology on the “omics”—nutritional genomics, proteomics, metabolomics, and more—reshaping how we assess and address not only potentially disease prevention (and maybe even treatment) but also using nutrition to feel better on a day-to-day basis.
As the potential role of nutrition in health is more widely accepted and taught, there may someday be more of an overlap or blurring of lines between modern medicine and the role that vitamins and even botanicals have in addressing wellness.
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As this article explains it, all of us are individuals with specific differences in our genetics, metabolism and biochemistry. These factors should be considered in how we approach our own nutrition plans, taking into account what works best based on what nature has given us, our personal eating habits and lifestyle.
How many times has a friend recommended a specific diet which works for her, but doesn’t work for you when it comes to losing weight, having more energy or just feeling better? Personalized nutrition aims to figure out what works for your body, using tools from nutrition apps to testing blood levels of specific nutrients (more on that later). Another important piece is to better understand the microbiome and its impact on your health.
The “what?” you say.
The microbiome is the collection of all the microorganisms and viruses that live in a given environment including the human body or part of the body, such as the digestive system, according to the National Cancer Institute (NCI).
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NCI is just one scientific organization that is keen for more investigation on the microbiome and how gut health plays into other areas of personal health, something the scientific community is learning more about. NCI suggests that research may lead to a better understanding how the microbiome may help prevent and treat disease.
But let’s take a step back for a moment. Is the concept of “personalization” really new? After all, when it comes to marketing, the concept is certainly not new—remember the Burger King campaign “Have it Your Way?” from back in the 70s?
Personalized Nutrition Research
When it comes to the science, this article from the New York Times pinpoints the promise of nutrigenomics to the Human Genome Project, launched in 1990 and completed in April 2003. As the article explains, early studies out of Harvard, Stanford and other research institutions found that genetic differences played a role in weight loss based on specific types of diets. But more research was then, and still is now, definitely needed.
Led by an institute within the NIH, the Human Genome Project provided fundamental information about the human blueprint, which in turn sparked more study of the human genome, to the benefit of the practice of medicine.
And now the NIH may do the same for nutrition.
That’s why it’s a big deal to share the news that in May 2020, NIH released a ten year (2020-2030) Strategic Plan, its first ever, for nutrition research. The plan is organized around the unifying vision of precision nutrition research and is designed to complement and enhance ongoing research efforts across NIH to improve health and prevent or combat diseases and conditions affected by nutrition.
To further this effort, in January 2022 NIH awarded $170 million for a “precision nutrition” study to be conducted over a five-year period utilizing several different research institutions across the US. This study will develop algorithms to predict individual responses to food and dietary routines and recruit a diverse pool of 10,000 participants who are part of the NIH’s All of Us research program to inform more personalized nutrition recommendations.
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The Role of Technology in Personalized Nutrition
Advances in technology are one reason why consumers may be drawn to personalized nutrition and even the most serious scientist may get giddy about the research opportunities.
According to this article, artificial intelligence (AI) could be a gamechanger for nutrition, allowing for more precise guidelines and recommendations that would better fit individual needs to improve diet and health. The author rightly points out that we’re all different in the way we approach our health and how we respond to the factors that impact our health, making the personalized approach of precision nutrition more appealing and potentially resulting in better outcomes.
He also claims that computer technology and AI will be core components to achieving greater interest and results for precision nutrition. As a standard-setting and nutritional testing company, here at OmegaQuant, we couldn’t agree more. And, we’d add that part of that technology is testing on a regular basis to determine whether your nutrition plan is actually helping you achieve your nutrition goals.
What Does the Personalized Nutrition Market Look Like?
The personalized nutrition market is expected to reach $23.3 billion globally by 2027, growing at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 15.5% between 2022 and 2027, according to this report. Looking forward a decade, the estimates are slightly less impressive, but nonetheless meaty, according to these global expectations that call for a 6.4% CAGR from 2022 to 2032. The estimates place the U.S. as accounting for nearly 75% market share in North America, with a slightly lower CAGR of 4.7% over the forecast period.
Today, the market includes consumer options for nutrition apps and wearable technology as well as personalized diet plans and supplement companies that use testing methods, individual consultations, quizzes and other means to recommend a personalized supplement program.
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At OmegaQuant, we’ve always offered what we consider to be one piece of personalized nutrition puzzle — nutrient testing. Our philosophy is that in order to impact your health, you need to know your numbers.
Now we’re added something new to our toolbox through Parasol, our sister company. Parasol features not only omega-3 dietary supplement solutions, but by combining our tests with subscriptions and bundles and supplements, they are offering you a convenient and cost-savings approach to a personalized omega-3 program. And, you can also purchase our other tests for other nutrients, including vitamin D and vitamin B12.
Why is testing so important? Parasol says that the testing uses actual biomarkers to measure the amount of each nutrient or vitamin your body has access to. This approach measures your existing dietary habits and then advises how your body processes the vitamins and nutrients it needs—not based on your memory or what a DNA test suggests you might need—but on actual, personalized results.
Once the results are in, the experts at OmegaQuant send you a report that includes suggestions to help you make a dietary change if needed to optimize your health.
Bottom line: The field of personalized nutrition is still in its infancy, with enormous opportunity for potential growth and promise for individual health improvements as the science and technology continue to find new avenues that are applicable for scientific research and personal applications for individuals looking to better manage their health. No doubt, you’ll hear more from us about personalized nutrition in future blogs.