The healthiest diets start with the genes

Are we really what we eat – or do our genes play a bigger role? Two INCluSilver projects in Spain are mapping the link between genetics and nutrition in diets for healthy ageing

Ageing is inevitable, but exactly how we age varies from one person to the next. In Spain, two INCluSilver projects are focused on the genetic differences that define those variations and how personalised nutrition can help reduce our risk of age-related disease.

Both are backed by years of research at Spain’s two leading centres for nutrigenomic studies. Using INCluSilver funds, their goal is to demonstrate a positive effect on health when older adults follow dietary recommendations based on the findings of a genetic test.

Genetic response to nutrients

Ana Ramírez de Molina, deputy director of the IMDEA Research Institute on Food & Health Sciences in Madrid, is part of the team behind Precision for Health (P4H) which has developed the H4Aging e-health platform. She explains the concept of genetic variants.

“Among the population, there exists a number of genetic variants, which are all quite normal. Each one influences our response to various nutrients. For example, if you have a genetic variant that doesn’t metabolise fatty acids, glucose or alcohol, then you will maintain such compounds in your body for a longer time.

“If this means your body is having to work hard, then your risk of developing certain diseases will increase. Using our e-health platform, you can find out which nutrients your body will metabolise best.”

P4H has so far identified 26 genetic variants with an influence on healthy ageing. In a year-long trial, they have documented positive effects on health when trial subjects followed nutritional recommendations based on their personal genetic variant.

Prediction of diet-related risks

MG Nutrición 3G obtains key data for its project from the University of Navarra, which launched the SUN study in the late 1990s to evaluate the potential health benefits of the Mediterranean diet. Today, SUN has 22,000 participants, including 1,200 who have provided saliva samples for genetic testing.

“We use our genetic test to predict a person’s predisposition for 11 diet-related diseases, such as type 2 diabetes,” says Cecilia Galbete, communications director at MG Nutrición 3G.

“Our INCluSilver project aims to determine whether our dietary recommendations can reduce those disease risks. This is done by statistical analysis of the data set from the university.”

The first step to validation

As nutrigenomics is a relatively young area of research, Ana and Cecilia agree that current knowledge of genetic health risks is still limited. Nor is personalised nutrition a miracle cure that can prevent all diet-related diseases. But genetic testing can help individual consumers make more informed decisions about what they eat.

“INCluSilver is funding the first step to validating our work, enabling us to measure many more genes and improve our algorithms for measuring them,” Cecilia says.

Beyond INCluSilver, Ana say research at P4H has a series of goals. The ultimate ambition is to develop nutritional supplements and functional foods that can influence individual genes and help the body work better.

“It helps us a lot to be part of a European community focused on nutrition for older adults,” she adds.

Other INCluSilver projects working with nutrigenomics are BIOMEB, myDNAhealth and BioCoS.


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