Nutrigenomics – the DNA-backed science of what one should/should not eat – is one of the most exciting promises in digital health. It has been, in fact, one of the most exciting promises for at least five years, if not more. And despite the expectations and advancement of DNA analysis, it still couldn’t live up to the high hopes. The field struggles to gain momentum and become a mainstream service used by the masses.
There are a number of reasons why it is so, we explained four factors in this article. So where do we stand now? This was the main driving question behind one of our latest data projects: mapping out the nutrigenomics landscape.
Our analyst colleague collected as much data as possible about available nutrigenomics service providers to paint an overview of what is available, where and for what price. You can dive deep into the details with our new infographic.
The goal was to find companies offering genetic tests and dietary information, advice and insights based on the genetic results. We found 41 providers selling dietary advice based on genetic results around the world.
Not surprisingly, North-American customers are best served: 19 providers are located on the continent (17 in the USA and 2 in Canada). This is followed by Europe with 11 companies, located in the UK, Spain, Belgium, Ukraine and Finland. Asia has 5 providers in India, Malaysia and China. Three of the four African companies are located in South Africa, and one is in Egypt. Oceania and the Middle East have one provider each, in New Zealand and Israel respectively.
So what can you expect from nutrigenomics now?
To provide a glimpse of what the field has to offer now, I’ve chosen 3 examples of the above 41. Here they are.
Genopalate – you can upload your existing DNA test
Genopalate is located in the US. The reason for picking them as an example is that they allow their users to upload the results of their existing genetics tests (from 23andMe and AncestryDNA). Although you can also take a test with them, using your already existing analysis will save you around 50% of the price.
Their services are similar to other nutrigenomics companies: nutritional insights on 23 different nutrients (macronutrients and vitamins & minerals), the likelihood of gluten & lactose sensitivities, metabolism speed on alcohol & caffeine, a list of “genetics superfoods” (a recommendation list to find the ingredients that best match your DNA profile). They also promise that you will learn about your eating predispositions (like stress eating, various cravings, flavour preferences and your ideal breakfast time), and also how you can better manage stress levels with diet- and lifestyle-related decisions.
Consultation with a registered dietitian is also available, but it’s not part of the basic packages, you need to purchase it as an extra, and it costs more than the actual test. The service is only available in the US.
DNAfit also works with existing DNA test results and you can check the sample nutrition report
With the UK-based DNAfit it’s not necessary to get an actual test done, as it also works with reports from the same two companies as above, and for a very low price. For under £30 you can get your report in under 30 minutes – they say. I haven’t tried it yet, but I would probably opt for the extended package (£50-ish) which promises diet, exercise and lifestyle recommendations based on the results of my existing DNA test.
But back to the nutrigenomics offer. You can also start from scratch and have your DNA tested with them, and will receive the following info.
Diet insight – 11 reports – to personalise how you eat. This includes data on sensitivities (carbohydrate, fat, salt, caffeine), data on coeliac predisposition, and alcohol response, among others. You will also get nutritional insights – 13 reports – focusing on vitamins and minerals. And you will receive a personalised meal plan, which is supposed to offer you recipes and shopping lists based on your genetics and personal preferences.
According to the available data, they don’t offer in-person counselling, not even as an extra. Bonus: available in countries that many “big-name” providers don’t cover.
CircleDNA comes with counselling
Hongkong-based CircleDNA has an interesting take: their test is slightly more expensive than the other two above – and a lot cheaper than many on our list -, but it comes with a free 1-hour counselling session and it is based on whole genome sequencing. While an hour may not seem like a big thing, I more than once mentioned that genetic results can be tricky to interpret even for me – and I have a PhD in genetics. Thus products that come with counselling always get some bonus points from me.
Their Diet-Lifestyle-Exercise packages include 125 reports, of which 15 are diet-related. The things they offer are very similar to the ones I listed above (alcohol/caffeine/fat/salt/carbohydrate sensitivity, various intolerances, predispositions, optimal diet type). Another 20 offers nutritional info, mainly on vitamins and minerals. The rest of the reports come from other areas, such as fitness potential, and ancestral roots & genetic traits.
If you are located in one of the less-fortunate countries of the world – like I am, services of major DNA testing companies are just not available in Hungary, my home country – worldwide shipping can be a big plus.
It’s still challenging to decide what value you get
A relatively new advancement in the field is that more and more companies started working with already existing genetic test results. It is a viable business model given how tens of millions of people have already taken a test in the past few years. Offering new insights based on the existing data is a good take.
If you’re looking for a general takeaway regarding nutrigenomics, here is what I see now.
First, it is still challenging to determine what exactly you get for your money. While there are dozens of companies on the market selling these services, regulatory frameworks are not clear. Even the FDA, which is typically the first to set up such a framework for digital health inventions, lags behind. Thus users are pretty much left in the dark regarding the actual value of these offerings. At the moment there is no clear way to decide if you are spending money on meaningful health insights or well-crafted marketing messages.
Secondly, although there are growing numbers of scientific studies on nutrigenomics, these don’t reflect the user’s point of view.
And last, I can’t, at this moment, declare a clear takeaway on what you can and can’t learn from taking such a test. I will continue to keep an eye on the field and hope to see advancements on the regulatory side.