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The Making of Medicine

‘Precision Nutrition’ Could Boost Good Health and Longevity

You've heard of "precision medicine" -- where treatments are tailored specifically to an individual patient -- but have you thought about "precision nutrition"? New findings from our Ani W. Manichaikul, PhD, move us closer to living longer, healthier lives by tailoring our diets to our individual biology.

Professor Manichaikul and her colleagues looked at data collected from more than 1,400 Hispanic-Americans and more than 2,200 African-Americans to assess how their genes influenced their ability to use two healthy fats, Omega-3 and Omega-6. We get these fats from foods -- certain fish can be great sources of Omega-3, for example -- but they're also a staple in supermarket supplement isles for their much-reported importance in good health.

There's been quite a lot of research into how our genes influence our ability to use these fats, but that research has focused heavily on people of European descent. That left an important knowledge gap that Professor Manichaikul and her collaborators set out to rectify.

They found broad similarities among the groups but also some important differences. For example, they identified several previously unknown genetic sources of variation in fatty-acid levels among both Hispanic-Americans and African-Americans. And that highlights the need for genetic studies in diverse groups of people, the researchers say.

“People of diverse ancestries have some distinct features in their DNA, and we can find this genetic variation if we include diverse participants in research,” Professor Manichaikul said. “The results from this study bring us a step closer to considering a full spectrum of genetic variation to predict which individuals are at increased risk of fatty acid deficiencies.”

The differences the researchers detected in Hispanic-Americans and African-Americans help explain why their bodies use fatty acids differently. They also suggest answers to questions such as why Hispanic people with significant American Indigenous ancestry often have lower levels of fatty acids in their blood.

By better understanding such nuances, we're better positioned to capitalize on the power of nutrition to improve our health.

The researchers say their new findings lay the groundwork for future studies to examine how fatty-acid differences may influence the outcomes of diseases such as cancer, or how they affect immune system function. We might then use “precision nutrition” – a carefully tailored diet or strategic supplementation – to improve those outcomes.

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