KPU Nutrigenomics Study Explains How Diet and Genes Interact

Educating emerging adults about the relationship between their genes and diet can lead to better health outcomes later in life

Have you ever wondered how your genetic make-up interacts with your diet and influences your health? If the answer is “yes,” and you’re between the ages of 19-26, you might want to check out a study being conducted by KPU Health Science researchers, which focuses on the effects of providing personalized nutritional education to emerging adults. The study is in the recruitment phase right now, but could be published as early as next year.

“Nutrigenomics is a field of study that looks at nutrition-related genes and takes that information and translates it into how to give appropriate dietary instructions for people,” says Dr. Karen Davison, a KPU faculty member with the Biology and Health Science Department.

“We’re looking at emerging adults mainly because that has been a group that has not been studied when we’re looking at personalized nutrition,” she says. “It’s been identified as a key developmental period where, oftentimes, the eating habits that a person adopts could be there for the rest of their lives going through adulthood.”

“It kind of sets them up in terms of potential risk for developing chronic conditions,” she adds.

Research has shown that the health habits people establish earlier in their life may affect the likelihood of them experiencing things like obesity, type 2 diabetes, and heart disease as they grow older. Davison says the study is also taking a look at data related to the participants’ perceptions of the health report, and how the educational tools they are provided can be improved.

“Prior to this, other research we’ve done in looking at implementing the gene test [shows] that a lot of people find it hard to understand the report that they get and to take that information and integrate it into their daily lives,” she says.

“With this particular study, we want to see if we add in some extra educational resources, whether or not that will help people understand the information better and even see better improvements in their food intake.”

Participant hopefuls will first be screened for eligibility, which may depend on pre-existing health conditions. They will then go through a baseline health assessment, which looks at factors like their nutritional intake and if they take any supplements or medication.

After this, they will meet with a trained registered dietician who will assess data related to things like the participants’ height, weight, and diet. Then, the participants will provide a gene sample through a cheek-swab which will be sent to the Mount Sinai Clinical Genomics Centre in Toronto for analysis.

Participants will eventually receive a report which will contain information about their nutrition-related gene test results. It will include information on facts like their ability to metabolize different nutrients, vitamins, and minerals, and even how their genes affect their taste preferences.

“For outcome measures, we’re looking at dietary intake, so changes in sodium intake, fat, and other nutrients,” says Davison. “We’re looking at quality of life. We are looking at movement on the stages of change model, so … if people are ready to make a change or if they’re in their action phase of adopting a new healthy behaviour.”

People interested in participating in the study can go to surveymonkey.ca/r/BaseQu1. Anyone aged 19-26 who meets the criteria is welcome to apply.

“I think this is a very timely study to look at research that shows the impact of health behaviours in a time period of emerging adulthood, and the impact that that would have in the reduction of chronic diseases later on,” says Dr. Vidhi Thakkar, a research associate working on the study.

“I’m excited to be a research associate on this study and to have come on board at the start during the recruitment stage.”

Thakkar says that those who are interested in participating in this research can email her at vidhi.thakkar@kpu.ca.

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