Nutrigenomics: The next generation of personalized nutrition

By Danielle Masterson

- Last updated on GMT

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Getty Images

Related tags Nutrigenomics Biomarker Sports nutrition

Dozens of companies have cropped up to help consumers personalize their health and nutrition. So how does one company stand out from the rest?

Innovators from the world of sports and health have paired up to deliver a custom, personalized nutrition plan developed from the pluck of a single strand of hair.

Medical tests go mainstream

Thanks to the emerging science of nutrigenomics, the custom-tailored approach to nutrition is no longer just reserved for elite athletes or those with specific medical issues. Today, sophisticated personalized nutrition can be attainable for anyone looking to transform their health. One company is looking to do so for the general public, and at an affordable price point. 

Paragon​, which just launched in the United States last month, is a startup in the supplement space that is redefining how consumers approach supplement solutions. The company says it aims to cut through the clutter in the vitamin space to deliver a personalized vitamin solution for the increasingly health-conscious consumer. 

First developed for doctors, patients and pro-athletes, Paragon uses an online analysis along with hair testing to cross-reference over 350 biomarkers, symptoms, and lifestyle data points. The company says it has been clinically proven for over 15 years and generates effective targeted vitamin, mineral, nutrient and lifestyle programs.

Jeff B. Smith, former Company Group Chairman of Johnson & Johnson NA, and Sam Brock, a scientist and former Olympic coach, teamed up to develop Paragon.  With $1.5 million in seed funding and a team of industry experts, the pair is hoping to shake up the customized vitamin category.

Smith, the co-founder and CEO of Paragon, told NutraIngredients-USA that he is passionate about building brands that offer high-quality solutions at affordable prices to help people live their best lives every day. 

Jeff Smith Headshot
Jeff B. Smith

“As we enter the market place we are very purposeful to make sure it was affordable. And so tests that you can get on the marketplace today, when we looked, were running $300-400. We purposely said that we will price it under $100 to make it accessible, so that people can truly understand their unique situation. From what used to be available in hair testing and what we can do today and match it up to the database, we feel that the $99 price point is very competitive and attainable for most people,” ​he said.

The root of cellular health 

Hair minerals are a reflection of our inner workings. They reveal information on vitamin and overall enzyme balances inside cells, and are also a clear window into cell health, metabolic activity, hormonal activity, nutrient levels and any ongoing toxic metal exposures.

“When you look at a piece of hair through your naked eye, it may look like an extremely thin piece of hair, but there are trillions of cells in each hair, it’s almost like a big cable of atoms that allows us to really understand the minerals that are bound to the proteins. Your hair strand is about 65-95% protein, the minerals bind to that protein and when we take it to the lab, the hair is incinerated carefully, and it leaves behind a mineral ash. That mineral ash contains all the information relative to your minerals, toxins that are in your body, and allows us to have a truly personalized look at the intracellular activity that’s going on for you individually,”​ Smith told NutraIngredients-USA.

Once the questionnaire is complete and the hair is analyzed, Paragon produces a 4-5 page summary report that is attached to a more detailed 30-40 page report. Based on each person’s results, the report contains 10-12 pages of heavy nutritional advice, such as what to eat and which foods to avoid. There is also a section on physical fitness training. Finally, three different supplementation recommendations are offered. From there, the individual can choose their desired supplement subscription program and have it delivered to them on a regular basis. 

Toxic danger zone

There’s no way to outright avoid chemical exposure. Whether it’s the lotion we put on our skin, lead in drinking water, exhaust from cars, and chemicals in cleaning products, toxins are everywhere. But consumers can take steps to decrease exposure.  

“I think the most surprising piece of information is just how little people know about their bodies and when they see their reports and recognize that they might be high in some toxins like mercury or lead, they always come back and are a bit shocked by it. Just understanding that your mercury levels can be raised by eating a significant amount of large predator type fish like tuna and not recognizing by doing that two or three times a week, they're taking in excess amounts of toxins from fish. Or lead that they get from renovations in old houses where paint had lead in it years ago. People are astounded by what a hair test can provide them with in terms of knowledge about their body.​”

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To steer customers out of the toxic danger zone, Paragon uses biomarkers in hair to decode key indicators that raise red flags, what they call ‘tendencies.’ Smith said the goal is to monitor progress, adjust formulas as time passes and ultimately bring the body back to balance. 

“We call these things ‘tendencies.’ So you’re tending toward hypertension or you're tending toward anemia, they’re showing up through your hair test. So this person, when they did their initial hair test, they had 14 tendencies that were showing up out of balance. They went on the program, adhered to much of the nutrition and activity stuff, did the re-test and are back at the level of just one tendency. And so now we’ve completely re-adjusted their formulation to deal with their new reality.”

Medicine and nutrition create unique opportunity 

Using genomics to find the right diet and workout program is still a relatively new concept, but the future of this personalized nutrition category is promising, with some predicting that personalized nutrition will be the next diet megatrend. A 2016 study of human longevity ​found that 75% of health outcomes are attributable to environmental factors like diet and nutrition. Just 25% is connected to genetics. 

“I think vitamins and supplements are just basically food and all we're providing is what you're missing from your diet, your stress levels or from your lack of physical activity or too much physical activity...the things that are going on in your body, we’re a crutch that is part of better health among us.”

With technology making tests more affordable and consumers becoming increasingly interested in health, life-science companies have the opportunity to deliver highly targeted and unique personalized nutrition experiences. 

“As people want to have more control and understand what their health and wellness and needs are, they're looking at personalized medicine, personalized nutrition,  you know, personalized skin care. They want to know what they're putting on their bodies and that they’re taking in their bodies, and people will continue to evolve. As people bring the science forward, we’ll continue to make inroads in helping consumers get more involved in it.”

Sports Nutrition Summit 2020

Influencers, the microbiome, protein, formulation challenges and opportunities, and female athletic consumers are just some of the topics that will take center stage at the NutraIngredients-USA Sports Nutrition Summit in San Diego, Feb 3-5, 2020. 

For more information and to register, please click HERE​.

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