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Epigenetics key to effective personalised nutrition [Interview]

Article-Epigenetics key to effective personalised nutrition [Interview]

© Vitafoods Insights Epigenetics key to effective personalised nutrition [Interview]
Gene regulation by epigenetics could help to explain why we each respond to food differently. At Vitafoods Europe, Dr Jordana Bell will explain how new research results might feed into the design of personalised dietary interventions to improve cardio-metabolic health.

Epigenetics – the study of how our genetic background, behaviour and environment can affect if our genes are switched on or off – has become increasingly influential in the study of ‘lifestyle’ health factors such as nutrition, exercise and stress.

Current questions for example include the extent to which we can identify and even influence epigenetic variation, and what this might mean in terms of treating conditions such as age-related cardio-metabolic disease. This group of common but often preventable conditions includes heart attack, stroke, diabetes and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease.

The influence of diet on the human epigenome

Jordana Bell is an associate professor in epigenomics at King's College, London (KCL). “My research interests focus on the epigenome, or the biological mechanisms that regulate the function of our genes,” she explains. “In particular, I study factors that trigger changes in our epigenome, and the relevance these epigenetic changes might hold for human health and disease.

Over the past five years, Bell’s work has centred on characterising the influence of diet on the human epigenome, both in fasting and non-fasting states, and across different populations. She leads and participates in multiple international research consortia, notably the transnational DIMENSION consortium.

The DIMENSION consortium is a collaboration of six academic research partners across Europe,” says Bell. “The aim is to study how diet influences epigenetic regulation of gene function, and its impacts on subsequent cardio-metabolic health outcomes.

Diet is a major risk factor for cardio-metabolic health but can be challenging to study in part because metabolic response to diet is highly individualised. The consortium’s research team has sought to determine whether food intake triggers changes at the molecular level. This might explain some of the inter-individual variation in metabolic response to diet.

Individual metabolic responses to food

At Vitafoods Europe, Bell will be discussing DIMENSION’s results exploring the human molecular trajectories that underlie the dynamic metabolic response to food, and their potential impact on cardio-metabolic health.

For example, the team looked at changes in regulation of gene function triggered in 255 European participants after having food. They identified that some of the key genes important for body metabolism responses differed between fasting and after having food.

Our recent work explored how the human epigenome and gene function change in the period immediately before and after food intake,” she explains. “Our results show clear epigenetic and functional genetic changes after food intake, where some signals also relate to cardio-metabolic disease risk factors. Therefore, dynamic changes in epigenetic regulation of gene function can capture some of the inter-individual variation in metabolic response to diet.

Potential for personalised nutrition programmes

This research, Bell believes, has potential to advance personalised strategies for prevention of cardio-metabolic disease, including the development of personalised nutrition programmes. The results might also be used to guide the design of diet interventions to improve cardio-metabolic health.

Gene regulation by epigenetics is one biological mechanism that may explain some of the reasons why we each respond to food differently,” she adds. “Our results provide insights into why individuals may have different body responses after having food and chronic disease risks.

Bell’s presentation at Vitafoods Europe, entitled ‘Body responses after food intake: Impact of gene expression and epigenetics’, has been organised in collaboration with the European Society of Preventive Medicine (ESPM). The ESPM focuses on prevention, healthy ageing and longevity science across the life course, working with multiple stakeholders at the intersection of basic research, clinical medicine, education and public health policy.

ESPM is an Oxford based not-for-profit organisation established to promote the implementation of prediction and prevention of age-related noncommunicable diseases and to facilitate research to advance the field of preventive, predictive, personalised and participatory medicine.