Personalized nutrition: Mindful and aware consumers drive market opportunity

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19 June 2018 — Personalized nutrition has taken its place as a key industry topic, spurring the launch of a number of innovative start-ups using cutting-edge technologies to offer precise nutrition advice to consumers. This growing industry space will be the topic of discussion at the Personalized Nutrition Innovation Summit, which is taking place in San Francisco on June 26-27, 2018.

Organized by Kisaco Research, this event will connect tech startups; large tech, nutrition, sports and retail companies; pharmaceutical and consumer health companies and consultants, all competing and collaborating to be the leader in the personalized nutrition field. NutritionInsight spoke with a number of companies presenting at the event about their views on the challenges, opportunities and future of this exciting space. 

Health areas and consumer trends shaping nutrition

Increasingly mindful and aware consumers are a driving force behind the impressive growth and investments in the personalized nutrition space.

“With the chronic disease (particularly diabetes) and obesity epidemic being primarily driven by food choices, and with it skyrocketing unabated for four decades since the first national dietary guidelines, consumers are losing trust with dietitians and official government-sanctioned nutritional advice. Instead, they are turning to alternative sources who distribute their views using books and/or social media,” says Shai Rozen, Co-Founder at Suggestic, which provides real-time, contextually-aware, personalized food recommendations, according to user biology coupled with artificial intelligence.

“There is increasing recognition among consumers, researchers and healthcare professionals that traditional, one-size-fits-all, population-based nutritional recommendations for health promotion are inefficient and often ineffective,” explains Ahmed El-Sohemy, Founder of Nutrigenomix, a University of Toronto start-up biotech company dedicated to empowering healthcare professionals and their clients with comprehensive, reliable genomic information, with the ultimate goal of improving health through personalized nutrition.

“Research advances in the field of nutritional genomics have shown that some individuals benefit more by following different dietary recommendations than others, based on their DNA. This field of research is creating a strong demand for commercial tests that can provide this kind of personalized information for improved health. Indeed, personalized nutrition is consistently being identified as one of the top consumer trends in nutrition, and the nutrigenomics market is forecast to grow to over US$17bn by 2023, according to some reports,” El-Sohemy notes.

The demand for personalized advice has quickly met with another key area of health interest: the microbiome.

“Microbiome testing that allows you to understand what microbiome exists in your gut at the strain level, how active they are and, most importantly, what your microbes are producing [It] is the only way to get to precise and personalized nutrition. You need to make sure that you are not conned into doing microbiome testing based on 16s sequencing but look for testing that does meta-transcriptomics,” says Naveen Jain, Founder of microbiome testing company Viome. “Viome is the only company offering this type of service and it makes personalized nutritional recommendations based on your gut,” he claims.

Ranjan Sinha, Co-Founder & CEO at 3TandAI, also sees huge potential for the gut microbiome and gene sequencing in empowering consumers.

“The plummeting cost of gut biome and gene sequencing will empower consumers with their bio-individuality, make them realize that almonds are not everyone’s superfood or kale can be a significant health risk for a pre-diabetic based on their gut biome composition. They will demand personalized food and nutrition solutions to meet their personal needs based on their body biology,” says Sinha, whose company seeks to offer individualized nutrition advice based on a person’s DNA and microbiome.

Hurdles for personalized nutrition

Although industry experts seem to be in agreeance of the enormity of the growth potential of personalized nutrition options, there are still some key challenges. 

“The largest hurdle is underpinning it with science. Nutrition is terribly weak as a science (certainly in relation to the other sciences), mainly relying on observational studies. Proper studies would be too costly. However the potential for smartphones to vastly reduce the cost of such studies is now becoming a real possibility, so proper science is likely to emerge in the not too distant future,” says Rozen. “Since nutrition itself is relatively lacking a scientific underpinning, personalized nutrition is even more lacking.”

Jain similarly points to gaps in the current technological capabilities to understand the human body.

“Technology that will unlock our understandings of the functioning of our body at the molecular level has been missing so we were left to trial and error. This is the reason we see new fad diets emerge every few years,” he notes. “Fortunately, RNA sequencing (meta-transcriptomics analysis) and machine learning are now becoming affordable for us to be able to see what’s happening inside our body and what nutrition is needed to stay healthy and diseases free. This science is still in its infancy and will only get better as more and more people do the test to get personalized nutritional recommendation because access to more data make artificial intelligence more and more precise.”

Untapped potential and avenues for further R&D

“More research needs to be done on how foods cause and reverse various chronic diseases. We need to better understand the impact of how various food are produced, processed and consumed because all of this impacts our health,” says Jain. “We also need massive awareness that synthetic drugs are not the solution to chronic diseases and the only way to prevent and reverse chronic diseases are through precise and personalized nutrition.”

Consequently, he recommends that more people should test their gut starting at an early age regularly and follow recommendations to track and prevent chronic diseases.

According to El-Sohemy, research has shown that individuals who receive personalized, DNA-based dietary recommendations adhere to them more closely than individuals who receive general nutritional advice. 

“However, one of the knowledge gaps is whether increased adherence to personalized advice results in greater clinically relevant improvements in health,” he notes. “When considering the areas of untapped potential, we can consider any area of research involving nutrition. Knowing that individual genetic differences can explain why some people are ‘responders’ while others are ‘non-responders’, means we need to revisit all of those previous studies. Some specific areas that we’re exploring are nutrition and fertility, athletic performance and women’s health (e.g. premenstrual symptoms).”

The Personalized Nutrition Summit

Other speakers at the Summit will be covering topics such as using machine learning to provide personalized nutrition plans based on an individual’s microbiome and also addressing the regulatory landscape that is evolving around personalized nutrition, as the field becomes more mainstream and established.

“We’re excited to launch this Summit at such a pivotal time for the industry, with such an amazing line-up of companies coming together to discuss ground-breaking technologies that will really pave the way for this nascent field. The Innovation Showcase will highlight some of the amazing tech and work being done by small, nimble, exciting brands in the personalized nutrition industry,” says Jane Geiger, Conference Director for the Personalized Nutrition Innovation Summit.

By Lucy Gunn

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