Personalized nutrition: Adapting to the evolving tech space

By Danielle Masterson contact

- Last updated on GMT

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Related tags: personalized nutrition, Nutrigenomics, Dna, nutrigenetics, digital health, coronavirus

Technology has disrupted several industries, and nutrition is no exception.

A new report published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics​ offered insight into potential ways to improve personalized nutrition care via molecular-level data, such as genes or the microbiome.

The report involved International Life Sciences Institute North America, which convened a multidisciplinary panel to develop guiding principles for personalized nutrition approaches. The panel devised a guide for nutritionists on how to implement personalized nutrition technologies.

A rapidly evolving field 

“These technologies are evolving rapidly, and for many RDNs, it is unclear whether, when, or how these technologies should be incorporated into the nutrition care process,”​ the authors noted. “The rapidity of the developing science and technology demonstrates the need for continually evolving education in this area.”

Michelle Ricker, RD, identified this opportunity while working on nutrition programs for a dialysis company years ago. She is a self-taught DNA-based nutritionist who has been working in the field for over 20 years, focusing on nutrigenomics, wearable devices and other areas of personalized nutrition. 

“We’re still so young as an industry...we’re still looking at fad diets, and I don't think we should be doing that anymore because It doesn't make any sense. We have a lot more information that can actually help people from an individual standpoint, that we’re just scraping the surface on.”

Next gen RDs

According to a separate report in Journal of Human Nutrition and Dietetics,​ there is a growing role for the next generation of tech-savvy dietitians.

“Digital solutions will not replace dietitians because of the crucial value that we bring in terms of personal relationship building and behaviour change. However, dietitians who do not adopt or sufficiently understand new technologies may run the risk of being replaced,” ​the authors wrote.

The authors added that the profession must address this new reality. “Dietitians can play an important role in new initiatives and product development to ensure that digital products are scientifically valid, inclusive, equitable, accessible, explainable and representative. The opportunities for dietitians as we move into the fourth industrial revolution are limitless…”

The authors noted four opportunities for dietitians in the fourth industrial revolution:

  1. Acquiring new skills in bias validation, algorithm development, data management and analytics, as well as workflow, and unlocking new business models.
  2. Identifying new career opportunities that can uniquely combine the best of humanity, society, sustainability and technology to impact health outcomes for all
  3. Creating a new value proposition for dietitians as we leverage our nutrition domain expertise with digital literacy and a focus on prevention
  4. Learning a new language in terms of digital technologies and regulation that transcends borders as technology increases our reach

One new opportunity for personalized nutrition is the ability to sequence human genomes, which has led to more interest in nutrigenomics and other areas of personalized nutrition. Science has revealed that not everyone has the same response to the same dietary interventions. Other factors, like sleep, exercise, stress, and the gut microbiome also have a major impact on individual responses to diet.

“The tipping point is personalized nutrition. That's why I jumped into the nutrigenetics/nutrigenomics world, because we can play on our epigenetics,”​ said Ricker.

Real-time

Maria Valero, PhD, is a researcher at the University of Georgia College of Engineering. She helped develop BedDot, a smart sensing device designed to improve care for the elderly by providing real-time safety and health monitoring during sleep.

BedDot is a contact-free sensor system that continuously monitors sleep patterns and vital signs, which generates real-time alerts to loved ones or caregivers when urgent changes occur, such as falls from bed. BedDot is the first device to detect heart rate, respiration rate, sleep movements, sleep posture, and falls using only vibration sensing, according to the researchers.

Valero told NutraIngredients-USA​ that the benefits of nutrition technology are priceless. “Digital health will be the future, as it enables real-time continuous monitoring, and provides much more comprehensive information than an occasional clinic visit.”

Wei Gao, PhD, Assistant Professor of Medical Engineering Division of Engineering and Applied Science at the California Institute of Technology developed an electronic skin, or e-skin, that is applied directly on top of human skin. The flexible e-skin can be embedded with sensors that monitor things like heart rate, body temperature, blood sugar as well as hydration levels. No batteries are required since the e-skin simply runs on biofuel cells powered by body sweat.

Gao also believes real-time is the future of personalized health. “I think e-skin is a game-changer in the personalized health field as it allows real-time continuous monitoring of our vital signs and molecular information from our skin. The information collected from the e-skin could reflect an individual’s health status, allowing for early diagnosis and timely intervention.”

Personalized nutrition: Front and center

The coronavirus crisis has thrusted personalized health technologies into the spotlight. With digital health more widely available than ever, could social distancing and sheltering in place be the tipping point for digital health? 

Valero said absolutely. “The COVID-19 situation has brought significant challenges to public health and likely become the tipping point for digital health. Many people now avoid going to the clinic or hospital due to the concerns of COVID-19 and choose to use remote diagnosis devices (such as remote blood pressure monitoring devices).”  

Gao told us that the pandemic only highlighted the need for personalized nutrition technologies. “The challenges we face during the current COVID-19 pandemic show a strong need for digital health devices...The use of wearable or portable electronics for in-home and personalized health monitoring, disease diagnosis and management. This is particularly true in the area where the available medical resources are limited,”​ said Gao.

Ricker said the current time marks a major opportunity for the tech space. “Coronavirus and sheltering in place is keeping people home, so the only way you can interact is with technology. So I feel like this could be a huge boost for that space, if done right. It could be a pretty big jump off point for technology, especially in the health space.”

 

Source:  Journal of Human Nutrition and Dietetics 

2020 doi.org/10.1111/jhn.12746

“Personalised nutrition technologies: a new paradigm for dietetic practice and training in a digital transformation era”

Authors: M. Abrahams et al. 

 

Source: Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics

2020 doi.org/10.1016/j.jand.2020.01.02

“Advancements in Personalized Nutrition Technologies: Guiding Principles for Registered Dietitian Nutritionists”

Authors: M. Rozga et al.

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