"The role of nutrition in health has evolved beyond correcting malnutrition and specific deficiencies and has begun to focus more on achieving and maintaining ‘optimal’ health through nutrition,” wrote a team of leading nutrition experts who presented at the CRN sessions in October 2022.
The collaborative review, published this month in the journal Advances in Nutrition, outlines the hallmarks of optimal health and explores the various genetic, metabolic and microbiome factors that determine inter-individual responses.
The hallmarks: Resilience, performance, and cognition
As defined by the Trans-NIH Resilience Working Group in 2020, resilience encompasses “a system’s capacity to resist, recover, grow, or adapt in response to a challenge or stressor”.
“One of the goals of the resilience framework is to reframe the way we ask research questions, particularly about nutritional interventions like dietary supplements, such that we can better understand health outcomes that are not based solely on disease endpoints,” the authors wrote, noting US Department of Defense research into various nutritional interventions in response to different models of physical and psychological stress in service members.
Another demographic in focus is the ever-growing population of older adults in the U.S., which is expected to increase by almost 18 million by 2030. With more and more age-related mobility and cognitive issues on the horizon, the authors highlighted research on the antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties of polyphenolic compounds (found in berries and botanicals) to slow down or prevent age-related decline.
“An individual’s ability to be resilient, including the ability to respond to stressors and to thrive, retain functionality (i.e., cognitive function and immunity), while maintaining a high quality of life, should be considered,” the authors suggested. “Moreover, both essential nutrients (vitamins and minerals), as well as other non-essential bioactive compounds, should be considered as key factors that promote optimal health.”
The review stressed the importance of establishing more relevant biomarkers for nutrients status (such as plasma concentrations of micronutrients), as well as better biomarkers of optimal health beyond disease outcomes.
Individualized responses and precision health
The Science in Session symposium also addressed the critical need to understand the interactions among age, gender, environment, and genetic ancestry on the individual response to nutrition.
“To realize the promise of optimal health, we need to appreciate that optimal health is different for everybody – one size does not fit all,” the review noted. “Understanding the drivers of differential and individualized responses to food, nutrients, and bioactives will be critical to realize the potential of precision nutrition.”
This included discussion of emerging areas – including the roles of genotype, metabotypes, and the microbiome – as important to defining future Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) guidelines and recommendations based on the new biomarkers of health, particularly for subgroups of susceptible populations. In 2022, the National Institutes of Health invested $170 million in a new program that will combine metabolism, microbiome, diet assessment methods and data sciences to provide new insights in precision nutrition.
“A transition to defining optimal health, with markers of resilience and retaining optimal function, has the potential to help motivate behavior change as tangible measures of functionality and vitality that can be individualized,” the review concluded. “However, these scientific efforts will require team communication and close collaboration to properly message and communicate to the population at large, and ultimately, improve the health of the nation.”
Source: Advances in Nutrition
"Perspective: Council for Responsible Nutrition (CRN) Science in Session. Optimizing Health with Nutrition – Opportunities, Gaps, and the Future"
Authors: Emily Ho et al.