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Metabolic Typing May Be The Future of Personalized Nutrition

Personalized nutrition – seen by many as the future of nutrition – may take a step closer as scientists apply the metabolomics approach to identify individual metabolic ‘types’.

Metabolic typing is a systematic, testable, repeatable, and verifiable methodology based on research and extensive clinical experience over the last 25 years that combines the wisdom of the ancient systems of medicine with our modern scientific understanding of physiology and biochemistry.

A study funded through the European Nutrigenomics Organisation (NuGO) found that it is possible to characterize individual responses to fasting, and to take a ‘snapshot’ of small metabolic changes after 36 hours of fasting.

The study’s findings, published in the journal Metabolomics, identified a number of metabolites and hormones not previously associated with fasting. The researchers, led by Hannelore Daniel from the ZIEL Research Centre for Nutrition and Food Sciences in Germany, also found high variability between individuals for certain markers, including leptin, the satiety hormone.

Metabolic typing analyzes, evaluates, and interprets objective physiological and biochemical indicators along with symptomatology in order to define one's metabolic type -- the specific, individualized, genetically-based patterns of biochemical metabolic individuality that dictate one's physiological and neurological "design limits" and requirements for nutritional substances.

“This study shows how it is possible to use metabolomics to characterize the different responses of individuals to nutritional or physiological stress,” said Professor Ian Johnson from the Institute of Food Research in the UK.

“By using the same approach applied to a large number of volunteers, we hope in the future to be able to divide the population into metabolic “types”, an important step towards personalized nutrition,” said co-researcher Professor Ian Johnson from the Institute of Food Research in the UK.

The rise of ‘omics’

Many food companies – both ingredient suppliers and food manufacturers are taking the potential of nutrigenomics very seriously. Companies such as Nestle, DSM, and Chr Hansen are all investing heavily in the area. However, actual products are as yet, scarce.

Nutrigenomics is seen by many as the future of nutrition. Nutrigenomics is defined as how food and ingested nutrients influence the genome (personalized nutrition). Nutrigenetics is defined as how a person's genetic make-up affects a response to diet (individual nutrition). The difference between the two is important.

Study details

Ten participants were recruited for the study at the Rowett Institute of Nutrition and Health, University of Aberdeen in Scotland. Following four overnight fast the participants provided blood, saliva and urine samples. The fasting period was extended to 36 hours for the last sampling day.

Results showed that, of the 377 products analyzed, 44 per cent of them were shown to change after prolonged fasting of 36 hours compared with overnight fasting (12 hours). Some of these markers were already known to be ‘fasting markers’ but many metabolites and hormones that were altered associated with fasting for the first time in this study.

“We now have a clear fasting signature,” said Dr Daniel.

The researchers noted a complete change in the body’s fuel management system: Specifically, the researchers noted a significant decrease in leptin, the satiety hormone, but this extent of this varied between individuals. Furthermore, ketone levels increased in the urine, again with inter-individual difference, while blood ketone levels rose by a similar amount in all volunteers, added the researchers: The presence of plasma ketone bodies is indicative of tissue fat being broken down.

“This is the first study to our knowledge that has applied metabolomics to comprehensively assess the response to prolonged fasting in human volunteers,” wrote the researchers.

“In addition to well-known markers that characterize this catabolic state (such as NEFA, glycerol and ketone bodies in plasma) we have identified some 100 new metabolites in blood and urine that change in the fasting state. In this respect we provide a snapshot of the ‘catabolic metabolome’ that may be taken as a mirror image of the ‘anabolic metabolome’ reported in three recent metabolomics studies in human volunteers that used the oral glucose tolerance test (OGTT) as a challenge.”

The Future of Nutrition

The food that we eat is intended as the "fuel" for our body's cells, our engines of metabolism. Our cells in turn convert the fuel to energy to be used in all the life-supporting processes of metabolism that keep us alive and healthy. But like any engine, our body needs a certain kind of fuel to function optimally. A gasoline engine requires gasoline for fuel. A diesel engine is designed to run on diesel for fuel. But try to run a gas engine on diesel or a diesel engine on gas and not only will the energy output be deficient, but using the wrong fuel for the engine will cause real problems for the engine itself.

Similarly, our bodies have genetically-based requirements for specific kinds of foods and balances of nutrients in order to produce optimal energy and function in a state of optimal health. If we meet these "design requirements," we can expect to be healthy, energetic, fit and trim.

Failure to obtain on a regular basis the kinds of foods our body's are designed to utilize will initially produce sub-clinical health complaints such as fatigue, aches and pains, headaches, indigestion, weight gain, constipation, rashes, dry skin, low blood sugar, etc.

But long-term deficiency of the right foods for the metabolic type will lead to degenerative conditions like asthma, cardiovascular disease, cancer, diabetes, arthritis, etc. In other words, it's not just that the Eskimos can eat up to 10 pounds of meat and huge amounts of fat and almost no carbohydrate, they need to eat that way in order to be healthy because that's what their metabolisms are genetically programmed to utilize as fuel. Similarly, each of us has very specific requirements for nutrients that must be met in order to obtain and maintain good health, energy and well-being for a lifetime.

Without metabolic typing, there is no way to discern one's "medicine" from one's "poison." Without metabolic typing, there is no way to know how nutrients behave in one person as opposed to another. In essence, without metabolic typing, no rational basis exists from which to select proper diet and nutritional supplementation because one's metabolic type dictates individual responses to nutrients.


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