that we can analyze genetic diversity at the molecular level, how
will consumers benefit?
10 April 2001
by Peter Everett
the publication of the first draft of the human genome, researchers
have identified 1.4 million single-nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs),
the points in the genome where individuals differ in their genetic
sequence. (See sidebar for explanation
of SNPs.) Drug developers are wasting no time in investigating
the implications of this molecular-scale genetic diversity as a
means to predict how different pharmaceuticals will work in individuals.
as each of us differs in our outward appearance, our diversity is
reflected in our genome and in the enzymes produced by those genes.
Alterations in a single amino acid can make an enormous difference
in how quickly a particular enzyme can catalyze the metabolism of
drugs and other highly bioactive substances. This includes all the
molecules used by the body, such as those found in food.
genetic diversity of individuals
the potential of being able to trace the absorption and use of substances
at the genetic level when one person breaks down vitamin C at four
times the rate of another. Or suppose someone stores iron at ten
times the normative rate, or is unable to properly metabolize the
amino acid phenylalanine, a substance made memorable by its presence
on warning labels for products containing aspartame. Such knowledge
of genetic diversity has enormous implications for analyzing and
optimizing nutrition on an individual basis.
parallels between molecular-scale diversity and its application
in developing individualized nutrition profiles puts widely popularized
(if somewhat suspect) nutritional concepts like "Recommended Dietary
Allowances" (RDAs) and "Safe Upper Levels" (ULs) for vitamins and
minerals into a more realistic perspective. What, for instance,
if the Institute of Medicine were to publish a "recommended shoe
size," or a "maximum safe eyeglass prescription?"
present, these "guidelines" reflect nothing more than population
averages and arbitrary safety margins. At best, they serve as a
starting point for further refinement according to individual needs.
Government authorities, testing organizations, and producers of
drugs and nutritionals are now recognizing that the publication
of SNPs is changing the whole science of administering substances
potential benefits of SNP knowledge
manufacturers, driven by the rewards to be gained in making products
safer and more effective, will seek to correlate the bioactivity
of their products with a wide array of SNPs. We should recognize,
however, that the potential benefits of doing the same with foods
and dietary supplements offers similar rewards, and in many instances
at dramatically lower cost to the consuming public than through
is in part because people eat every day from birth, and because
nutritional supplementation is, on average, substantially less expensive
than costly pharmaceuticals. It also recognizes a truism: most people
are healthy much of the time. Being able to enhance nutrition with
a science-based model tied directly to individual needs has implications
for everything from personal well-being to national productivity.
of all three classes of product, along with those who recommend
and consume them, will benefit from the newfound science of SNPs.
Imagine a world in which we know exactly how much of a vitamin or
mineral we need for optimal health and energy; imagine a time when
we can match our wellness needs with a precise understanding of
just how much of a low-cost, highly effective botanical we need
to combat a cold.
nutrition and health care
will lead the movement towards optimal, individualized nutrition
based on the newly found insights offered by single-nucleotide polymorphisms?
What rewards will be gained by consumers? Just as commercial testing
organizations focused on product quality are emerging in the consumer
marketplace, one can anticipate the appearance of commercial organizations
dedicated to individual nutrition profiling. Whether accessed by
consumers as part of a medical intervention or a wellness program,
knowledge of one's bioindividuality appears to have little downside.
SNP-based research will impact the price-performance ratio of both
dietary supplements and foods (including a new class of enhanced
foods called "nutraceuticals") is an open question. If new research
methods allow for the matching of individual nutritional profiles
and precisely measured bioactive supplement components, the potential
for better health at reduced cost may be significantly enhanced.
With over half of all adult Americans currently using supplements,
the benefits to producers in being able to target products more
precisely to individual needs seems obvious, especially when combined
with sure knowledge on the part of consumers.
quality supplements, and health freedom
if cost advantages are to be preserved, producers and consumers
alike need to keep a vigilant eye on the regulatory environment.
The legislative reforms of the mid-'90s, which left supplements
largely free of the pre-market regulation governing pharmaceuticals,
need to be defended and strengthened. Ensuring that the cost of
supplements remains free of much of the overhead associated with
patented pharmaceuticals requires constant vigilance by both industry
and consumer groups.
consumers who believe their health interests are best served by
cutting-edge science combined with open, competitive markets for
all drug and nutrition products, a sharp eye on new advances in
genetic science combined with attention to activity regarding supplements
in Congress seems a self-prescription well worth observing.
E. Gould Rothberg. "Mapping a role for SNPs in drug development."
Nature, Volume 19, Number 3, March 2001. www.nature.com/nbt/journal/v19/n3/full/nbt0301_209.html.
Everett is a founder of the Dietary Supplement Quality Initiative,
sponsor of SupplementQuality.com.