Dr Michael Fenech, head of the Nutrigenomics and Genome Health project funded by Australia's research body CSIRO, told those attending the meeting in Singapore that 'genome health clinics' will soon be possible as knowledge on gene-diet interactions grows.
"There is good evidence that genome and epigenome damage 'markers' are sensitive indicators of deficiency or excess in micronutrients (vitamins and minerals) which are needed as components of DNA repair enzymes and/or to make new copies of DNA," he said.
"We now know that moderate micronutrient deficiency can cause as much genome damage as significant doses of radiation and increases the risk of developmental and degenerative disease."
A deficiency of micronutrients can limit the DNA's ability to replicate itself properly and thus reduce the body's ability to fight diseases.
"Specific micronutrient deficiencies that cause genome damage may themselves cause developmental defects in the foetus or increased risk of cancer later in life. Supplementation of diet with appropriate vitamins, such as folate and B12, at the correct dose for each individual could help our DNA to remain healthy, and in some cases, actually help to repair damaged DNA," said Fenech.Growing work in this area is creating a new opportunity in disease prevention based on the fact that genome damage caused by micronutrient deficiency is preventable.
In the future, consumers could take a simple blood test at a special clinic, and have the damage to their DNA assessed as well as their genotype determined, suggested Dr Fenech. From there, they would be offered a micronutrient supplement and diet plan tailored to optimise their health.
"This would allow people, with the help of expert advice, to assess directly the effect of their dietary and nutritional supplement choices on their genome and that of their children."
The conference, organized by the International Life Sciences Institute (ILSI), is one of the first international conference on nutrigenomics in southeast Asia. The European Nutrigenomics Association looked at the latest developments in this field at a major conference in Palma de Mallorca last month.