Dec 31 2012

Nutrigenomics – Personalized Pseudoscience

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7 responses so far

7 Responses to “Nutrigenomics – Personalized Pseudoscience”

  1. tmac57on 31 Dec 2012 at 6:48 pm

    I’m not sure what their angle is here.Is it the testing,supplements,consultations…or what? The genetic test is about $500,but I have no idea if that is fair for that type of test.
    They seem to be just in that sweet spot of plausible sounding (if you are not a skeptic) sciencey sounding stuff,with a bit of toxins and supplements thrown in.These kind of sites are so common now that I wonder if they aren’t cannibalizing each other since they all have different answers for the same thing.

  2. keith grimaldion 01 Jan 2013 at 7:17 am

    Yes nutrigenomics is a legitimate field of research, has been for years ( The stuff you highlight about autism etc. is not legitimate though, there is no validity to the claims made and the quote “it will take decades to confirm what we already understand” is amazing, it just doesn’t make any sense – stupid!

    But you also need to be careful about implying that there is not any use at all, now, for nutrigenomics and personalising nutrition based on genotype – especially as you only cite one review. Yes nutrition is complex, individual SNPs have small overall effects on long term disease risk but… individual nutrients also have only small effects on overall disease risk, so what’s the point of any nutritional advice??

    BTW – in the review you cite in the final paragraph it says:

    In conclusion, most impact on health and disease prevention
    could be achieved in the short term if personalised
    nutrition focused on helping individuals to make healthy
    dietary choices from existing natural products. This should,
    for the moment, be based on population dietary advice but
    where possible, also take into account environmental
    factors and individual genotypes and metabotypes, where
    scientifically justified.

    So what you say is not correct (“In other words – the relationship between nutrition and personal health is complex and we do not yet have the scientific knowledge to apply to practice. The article concludes that, while promising, the field is not yet ready for the marketplace.”)

    The full article itself does not say that we don’t have the knowledge and does not say it is not ready – the abstract mentions commercial viability related to several things, that’s different

    Using it to cure autism is not scientifically justified – but there are some companies, a few serious companies, that are using it, in a less dramatic way, but in a way that is scientifically justified.

    The latter is one aspect we are working on making more transparent in the EU project

    see also

  3. Steven Novellaon 02 Jan 2013 at 7:29 am

    Kieth – I disagree with your interpretation of the current state of affairs, but I am willing to change my mind if you can provide published studies that demonstrate that specific genetic types have different clinical outcomes from targeted nutritional therapy.

  4. keith grimaldion 02 Jan 2013 at 10:27 am

    There are quite a few validated gene x diet interactions. The best known I suppose are

    MTHFR x folic acid x homocysteine

    CYP1A2 x caffeine x heart disease risk

    GSTs x cruciferous x DNA damage and some cancers

    SOD2 x antioxidants x breast & prostate cancer

    The main question though is utility – is it useful to have low homocysteine? Does the CYP1A2 x caffeine data mean that heart attacks can be prevented? These are difficult questions to answer, they never will be with standard RCTs (eg see here:

    But can the genetic information be used to supplement the standard guidelines (none of which have be, can be or will be “proven” by RCT)? That’s where the debate lies – and as with standard nutrition, there are many points of view

  5. Factoidjunkieon 02 Jan 2013 at 8:31 pm

    I agree with Steven on the current status. It does seem that claims are way ahead of evidence at this stage of investigation. The greatest difficulty it seems to me about individual nutrition is the high number of variables and the dynamics of health. Enhancing a system of this complexity will require a refinement in monitoring that does not yet exist.

  6. Aardwarkon 03 Jan 2013 at 3:41 am

    I also agree with Dr Novella, but I would like to highlight what I feel could be a very important distinction. Namely, there is pseudoscience and there is pseudoscience, if one might say so.

    What I mean is that it is important to distinguish between two things. Firstly, there is ‘pure’ pseudoscience (or shall I say PSEUDOscience, with strong emphasis on the ‘pseudo’ part) such as, for instance, homeopathy, or the ‘four humors’ type of diagnostic/treatment systems so delightfully dissected on SBM by David Gorski. To this category fall all attempts at giving medical advice based on principles that are – as a matter of principle – not correct, in that they do not correspond to any reality, or at the very least, there is no methodologically acceptably gathered data to support the conclusion that they do.

    Secondly, there is the type of pseudoscience that this post, as well as the previous one on stem cell treatments, deals with: ‘bogus’ (or, in a more PC speech, unsubstantiated) claims concerning one or more particular diagnostic/therapeutic applications of what otherwise may be principles that are themselves actually – again as a matter of principle – validated by lots of scientific research. I propose to call this ‘type II’ pseudoscience or pseudoSCIENCE, since the emphasis lies on the ‘science’ bit.

    This is, in a way, like reading a document in, say, German or Chinese to people who do not speak those languages and replacing the contents with whatever suits one to invent.

    My motivation to strongly insist upon the above distinction lies in the fact that, in the latter case, smashing the ‘pseudo’ part should be somehow (and this is, admittedly, very difficult) guarded from having a negative bearing on the ‘science’ part – for German and Chinese are, after all, real languages, and there is nothing wrong with the idea of reading and translating documents. Just as there is absolutely nothing wrong with those of nutrigenomics and stem cell therapy.

    Therefore I propose that, while debunking pseudoscience, we should all be very careful to distinguish whether we are dealing with something that is incorrect in principle (‘type I’ pseudoscience) or a piece that merely abuses real scientific knowledge to promote dishonest (or at least illusory) practice – ‘type II’ pseudoscience. In the two cases, the counter-tactics has to be quite different. In the former case, it is most important to promote scientific literacy (i.e. to point to the error of principle involved), while in the latter one must start from the ‘common ground’ (such as noting that nutrigenomics may, in fact, work, but not against autism right now and not in the way it is being claimed).

    Another vital point to make is that ‘type II’ pseudoscience may infect and threaten to discredit any part of science-based medicine. For instance, I would certainly place the frightfully common practice of prescribing antibiotics (i.e. antibacterial drugs) for obviously viral infections in this category as well, since it is certainly no more ‘scientifically based’ than the examples here discussed.

  7. tmac57on 03 Jan 2013 at 10:32 am

    Aardwark- I like your language analogy,but I would like to extend it a bit.
    Nutrigenomics and stem cell therapy are applications of a ‘language’ that has neither been completely deciphered,nor is fluently spoken or understood by anyone yet.
    Scientists are still working out the ‘syntax’, ‘morphology’,'phonology’,and ‘semantics’, while the pseudoscientists pretend that they not only have the dictionary,but also encyclopedias and novels written in those yet un-deciphered languages.

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