IWCR INSIDERS: SUMMER 2022 EDITION
The average person is buffeted by conflicting diet advice.
Both media experts and the food industry promote many simple-sounding yet contradictory solutions that never seem to live up to their lofty promises.
What if part of the problem was that one-size-fits-all solutions are not a good fit for everyone? We each have a unique DNA, a unique microbiome, and a unique constellation of other factors — from environment to lifestyle. What if it all mattered?
What if each person could benefit from an individualized approach? And what would that look like?
The new discipline of “Precision Nutrition” proposes to use Artificial Intelligence and Big Data — along with data collected from you — to predict how your body will respond to various foods and dietary patterns.
We are complex biological systems, and still very much mysteries. Precision Nutrition hopes to answer questions such as whether specific food choices might help people who have diet-related conditions like obesity, type 2 diabetes, and heart disease. It also hopes to help find better approaches to weight management that would result in less effort, less hunger, and better health overall.
The National Institutes of Health has begun a major research project focused on Precision Nutrition. It is called Nutrition for Precision Health (NPH). The program is awarding $170 million over 5 years to fund studies across the country. Researchers are recruiting a pool of 10,000 people to develop algorithms that can predict how your body responds to various parts of your diet. They’ll be looking at the diet, genetics, microbiome, physiology, and environment of the people in the study, along with other factors. And they are focusing on diversity, to make sure all types of people are included in the study.
“We know that nutrition, just like medicine, isn’t one-size-fits-all,” said Holly Nicastro, Ph.D., M.P.H., a coordinator of NPH. “NPH will take into account an individual’s genetics, gut microbes, and other lifestyle, biological, environmental, or social factors to help each individual develop eating recommendations that improve overall health. The evidence base is young,” says Nicastro. “We don't want to just look at the microbiome, we don't want to just look at genetics, because we need to be studying how all these things work together — other systems in the body, psychosocial factors, demographic factors, and other things that haven't been traditionally captured in nutrition studies.”
Two founding members of the International Weight Control Registry are also Principal Investigators with the NPH. Although the two studies are not connected, the goals of both are aligned in working to find solutions.
Dr James Hill, Professor of Nutrition Sciences at UAB, is a Co-Founder of IWCR, and a Principal Investigator with the NPH study. When asked what excites him about NPH, he told us:
“The exciting research in precision nutrition holds promise that we can learn how to match each person with the specific diet and lifestyle that optimizes their health.”
And Co-Executive Director of IWCR Dr. Sai Krupa Das, Senior Scientist at The Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging (HNRCA) at Tufts University agrees. She shared with us that “The most exciting aspect of this research is knowing that we will be able to understand and help explain why individuals respond so differently to the same diets.”
Weight management is a complex problem that needs comprehensive solutions. As the work proceeds, we’ll be sure to keep everyone updated on their progress.
The IWCR was founded with a belief in people-driven discovery — that we need everyone’s story to be able to create transformational change. We believe the best answers will be found in the lived experiences of millions of people — including you. Everyone’s stories of success and failure provide valuable clues to these complex challenges.
What strategies have worked best for you in the past? What popular approaches did not work for you?
Join us in your private IWCR Insiders Facebook group to discuss these findings and learn from your fellow IWCR Insiders.
Do you have more to share? We want to invite you to engage more deeply with your fellow Citizen Scientists. In future issues, we will be profiling interesting people from the sciences and hopefully, from this study! We want to feature your stories, profile your opinions, experiences, and ideas. Whether you have a great success to celebrate, or struggles we can all learn from, we want to know you better.
Your story could be part of our next blog or newsletter! Do you have thoughts about what it was like to participate in the IWCR Questionnaires? Has something inspired you lately? What else do you want us to know?
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We look forward to staying in touch with you on this important lifelong journey.