Nutracon: The Future Of Functional Foods

Jeffrey Bland, Ph.D., president and chief science officer for Metagenics, is a featured Nutracon speaker. He shares his vision for the future of health care in an exclusive interview with Sue Blanchard.

Could you describe genomic medicine?
Using a single swab of cells from inside your mouth, we can now analyse tens of thousands of genes and determine how they are being expressed, in a matter of minutes, for less than $100. This already-available technology will move us away from diagnosis and toward prognosis. This testing protocol will cost less than $10 within the next five years. It will become a routine part of every physical exam and reframe the way doctors view nutrition. Not every diabetic, cancer patient or heart patient has the same problem. We need to know more about each patient.

The risk of heart disease, cancer, diabetes or arthritis will be determined, to a great degree, by what a person consumes. You'll be able to measure how the nutrients in certain foods influence your genes in a favourable way.

How will this affect the functional foods and nutraceuticals industry?
Legislators and policy makers will recognise that the laws regulating foods are totally out of date relative to what we now know about the effect of nutrition on physiological function. This is what happened with soy and its heart-healthy claims. I predict that functional foods will become a personalised form of health care delivery.

People will be thinking, "I should be eating food with more soy, or more fibre, or a specific ingredient like glucosinolates." Language that was once reserved for a small percentage of consumers is going to become a common language, just like it did with cholesterol. It was a changing force that redirected new-product development.

Nutraceuticals will become therapeutic, delivering levels of specific nutrients that can't be obtained in foods alone.

How will nutrients be integrated into foods?
With genomics, our ability to genetically produce high levels of nutrients like high-flavonoid citrus or high-carotenoid carrots becomes an ever-increasing reality. We're going to see specialty crops that become high-value agricultural products. Rather than just fortifying food, we'll see the development of plants whose metabolic machinery is capable of producing specific nutrients.

How will genomics affect the raw ingredients supplier?
If I were an ingredients supplier, I'd be having a heyday, because we're in an incubation stage for creating new products and remixing old nutrients.

What about condition-specific foods?
Medical foods that are associated with specific clinical claims is an advancing frontier as we learn how specific nutrients influence health. They've traditionally been used in hospitals but now are becoming available in outpatient treatment applications for diabetes, post-chemotherapy and irritable bowel syndrome.

Are physicians practising genomic medicine?
There are approximately 15,000 medical doctors who have been trained at the Institute for Functional Medicine and are practising some form of genomic medicine, using functional foods and nutraceuticals to treat their patients.

Are regulations important in the new health care model?
It's important to regulate the quality of products so that people know they get what they pay for, and that good manufacturing practices and standardised ingredients are used. We need someone who can help us understand balance.

When you addressed the White House Commission on Complementary and Alternative Medicine in 2001, what was your position on health care?
We're engaged in a revolution about how nutrition affects disease. We're undergoing a change in thinking comparable to any great paradigm shift in medicine in the history of human knowledge. As we enter the era of genomic medicine, we will apply new understanding of the ways in which nutrients in our foods influence gene expression.

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