The decoding of the human genome has unlocked many possibilities as we understand more about our genetic makeup. Some companies are now offering customized vitamins and supplements based on your DNA. However, are these worth the money?
Many companies marketing DNA-based supplements have been accused of making misleading and deceptive statements.
It is not possible to determine nutritional deficiencies or needs for supplements based solely on DNA testing.
Any claims made based on DNA testing should be discussed with a healthcare professional.
Always discuss starting any new medication or supplement with your pharmacist or doctor before starting.
Nutrigenomics is the study of how your genetics (DNA) interacts with your diet. This rapidly expanding field has resulted in many companies developing genetic tests and marketing customized nutrition products, such as vitamins and supplements.
However, do these personalized supplements do what they promise? Are they better than store-bought supplements?
To answer these questions we must understand what these companies are testing for and the limitations of these tests.
Single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs)
It is thought that genetic variations may influence the effect of vitamins on the body or increase the risk of a particular deficiency. Single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) are gene variants or mutations that result in altered functions of the gene. It is these SNPs that companies offering personalized supplements are checking for during testing.
For example, it is common to have a variant (SNP) of the gene that codes for an enzyme called 5,10-methylenetetrahydrofolate reductase (MTHFR). People with certain variations in this gene may require folate supplementation above the recommended daily allowance (RDA).
If your test results reveal such a variant, the companies offering personalized supplementation would formulate your regimen to contain more folate than usual. By doing this, they claim to maximize nutritional support geared for your specific genetic makeup.
However, there has been no scientific evidence that personalized supplements and vitamins produce any additional benefits. They have also not been found to prevent or treat any medical condition.
Secondly, it is impossible to identify a vitamin deficiency through DNA testing alone. Therefore, these genetics-based supplements only identify possible needs. They fail to correctly identify actual needs which can only be performed by a blood test.
Finally, the personalized nutrition and lifestyle guidance provided by many of these companies can be misleading. The test results are often vague and may provide inaccurate health risk predictions.
The United States Government Accountability Office has testified in front of the House of Representatives concerning these companies’ claims. They described many of the advertisements and promises as misleading and deceptive. Thus it is important to discuss any recommendations with a licensed healthcare practitioner with training to interpret these genetic results.
DNA-based or store-bought supplements?
When it comes to regulation, dietary supplements are not required to be approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Therefore, there is no regulatory oversight to guarantee the ingredients and dosages contained in dietary supplements. Thus, from this standpoint, DNA-based supplements are not much different than supplements available from retailers.
Without the testing of blood levels, there is no way to determine your nutritional needs. Therefore, if the DNA-based nutritional supplement relies only on DNA testing, then it is doubtful they provide a significant benefit over store-bought supplements.
Based on cost, DNA-based supplements are often more expensive and have the additional cost of DNA testing. Additionally, store-bought supplements are likely to be of the same quality, especially if the supplement has received verification from the USP Dietary Supplement Verification Program. This program verifies the content and purity of supplements throughout the world. Overall, these supplements likely do not provide any additional benefits to justify their costs.
The field of nutrigenomics is rapidly expanding and can enhance nutrition and disease prevention. However, more research is needed to understand the value of nutrigenomic testing in personalized nutrition. Before ordering DNA-based nutritional supplements, consider consulting your doctor, pharmacist, or a registered dietitian if you have questions about taking vitamins and supplements.
- United States Government Accountability Office. Misleading Test Results Are Further Complicated by Deceptive Marketing and Other Questionable Practices.
- The United States Pharmacopeial Convention. USP Verified Mark.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. MTHFR Gene, Folic Acid, and Preventing Neural Tube Defects.