- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 13, 2005

NEW YORK (AP) — As a registered dietitian, Ruth DeBusk has eaten a healthy diet for a long time. As a geneticist, she wondered whether she could do better.

So earlier this year, she had her DNA tested by a company that gives personalized nutrition advice based on genetics. The results indicated that she needed more folate.

So Miss DeBusk doubled her minimum amount of folate, a B vitamin found in leafy greens and citrus.

“I’m more diligent about being sure that I get it every day if possible, because it really matters,” said Miss DeBusk, who has a private practice in Tallahassee, Fla., and has written a book on nutrition and genetics.

The basic idea is this: There are genes that affect the risk of getting illnesses such as heart disease, cancer, osteoporosis and diabetes, and the effect of those genes can be modified by what you eat. Everybody carries one version or another of each of those genes. So why not find out what gene versions you have and base dietary advice on that?

“Every time we go to the supermarket, we’re using educated guesses about what we should eat and what we shouldn’t eat,” says Raymond Rodriguez, director of the National Center of Excellence for Nutritional Genomics at the University of California, Davis.

More of that guesswork may be replaced with accurate, personal DNA-based dietary advice, which Mr. Rodriguez says is “rapidly emerging on the horizon.”

But that time isn’t here yet, most specialists say. Nutrigenomics is still in its infancy, with plenty to be learned, and it’s not clear what role it may play in standard medical practice.

Most of the research targets heart disease and cancer, and scientists may be ready to deliver personalized diet recommendations in those areas within five years, said Jose Ordovas, director of the nutrition and genomics laboratory at the U.S. Department of Agriculture nutrition research center at Tufts University in Boston.

“We have scientific evidence that the concept is right, that we can provide something along those lines in the future,” Mr. Ordovas said. “We are not there yet.”

No? You can walk into some pharmacies or grocery stores right now and pay $99 for a DNA test kit that will get you personalized diet advice for heart health, bone health or three other areas. It’s from Sciona Inc., a small company based in Boulder, Colo., that started offering DNA-based diet advice in 2001. Such tests also are available by mail order and on the Internet.

Sciona customers collect their own DNA with a cheek swab, complete a diet and lifestyle questionnaire, and send it all in for analysis. Sciona encourages customers to review its advice with a doctor.

The company acknowledges that some scientists say it’s too soon to offer such a service, but adds that its testing is based on solid research. Current testing focuses on 19 genes, and the company is studying others, said Rosalynn Gill-Garrison, chief scientific officer and a company founder.

Sciona’s approach basically starts with standard healthy-eating recommendations and modifies them when genetic analysis indicates a need for something more, Miss Gill-Garrison said.

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