Each year, I write about the trends I believe will have the greatest impact on the future of the nutrition and supplement industry. This year, as I look at the broader issue of healthcare, there is one trend that I feel has the power to completely change the game as we know it: personalized lifestyle medicine.
This newly emerging field builds on the trends of personalized medicine and lifestyle medicine, and is defined by the Personalized Lifestyle Medicine Institute (PLMI) as “an approach to medicine in which an individual’s health metrics from point-of-care diagnostics are used to develop lifestyle medicine-oriented therapeutic strategies for improving individual health outcomes in managing chronic disease.”
PLMI’s founder, Dr. Jeffrey Bland, describes the “secret sauce” of personalized medicine as a combination of genomics, biomarkers and lifestyle-based therapeutics [NBJ; October 2012; On the Hunt for Personalized Medicine]. The NBJ article continues to break this down, saying that “genomics decode our hardware, phenomics assess the software through a dizzying array of more affordable biomarkers and deeper diagnostics, and lifestyle medicine provides a smarter therapeutic approach to prevention before the disease even sets in.”
Today, you can see evidence of the personalized lifestyle trend everywhere, with technology making access to personal health metrics both more convenient and affordable. One of the best examples of this is the human genome test, which cost over $300,000 in 2010. Now, for under $12,000, you can access your complete human genome, and for around $99 you can get a select snippet of key genetic indicators through a saliva test ordered on the internet. In addition, smart phone apps and devices like the Jawbone UP wristband are making it possible to track personal metrics on everything from diet and exercise to your biorhythms during sleep. Before you know it, you’ll be able to lick your smart phone and have it tell you your personal genome.
The purveyors of personal genomics insist that genomic medicine will—indeed, must—become an integral part of modern health care. “I think it is very likely that, within a few years, pretty much every college-educated person in the United States is going to have a profile similar to the one provided by deCODEme or 23andMe or Navigenics,” says Kári Stefánsson, co-founder and CEO of deCODE.
Dietrich Stephan of Navigenics believes personal genomics will become part and parcel of 21st-century medicine—a complete personal-genome sequence, quite possibly performed at birth. “Ultimately, every baby that’s born will and should have their genome sequenced,” Stephan says. Doctors will routinely “sequence the genome, put it in a big computer, push a button, and get a rank-ordered list of things you are at risk for. It will supplant newborn screening and all molecular diagnostics.”
How will genomics affect nutrition?
Trends that affect the world of medicine almost always impact the nutrition and supplement world, and personalized lifestyle medicine is a perfect example of this. Working together with medical practitioners, researchers and those pioneering new diagnostic technology and services, the supplement industry has the opportunity to harness the power of personalized medicine to help dramatically curb the growth of chronic illness and help address our debilitating healthcare crisis.
Personalized lifestyle medicine will play a powerful and critical role in prevention. Informed with a profile of our genetic predispositions, combined with a range of hundreds of biomarkers from diagnostic technologies, practitioners as well as individuals will have access to a detailed DNA-specific health roadmap, with benchmarks and milestones included. With this map in place, there is the ability to chart a new course for the future of our health through medicine and lifestyle, including preventive, individually-targeted diet and nutrition.
Personalized lifestyle medicine provides a significant opportunity for the supplement industry, the broader nutrition industry including functional and medical foods, and indeed the entire healthcare system, including service providers, pharmaceutical companies and likely even food and food service companies. While many unknowns remain, I believe it can be taken for granted that cost-effective technology and data management systems will emerge and the business race will be over who can manage and deliver information to individuals and create practical tools for consumption patterns and lifestyle choices.
The age of technology & diagnostics
In the future, technology and the practical application of diagnostic and monitoring technology will be the backbone of personalized lifestyle medicine. If nutrition and supplement companies want to succeed in this new competitive age of personalized health management, they will need to stay on top of the dynamic trends in these technologies and applications.
In his book, The Creative Destructive Medicine: How the Digital Revolution Will Create Better Health Care, author Eric Topol, the chief academic officer of Scripps Health, talks about how “digital medicine”—ranging from wireless sensors and genomics to new health information software—will change the medical field for both professionals and patients. “This is a new era of medicine, in which each individual can be near fully defined at the individual level, instead of how we practice medicine at a population level, with mass screening policies for such conditions as breast or prostate cancer and use of the same medication and dosage for a diagnosis rather than for an individual patient,” writes Topol.
This personal health empowerment is also seen in the “quantified self movement”—the term used to describe those who use smart phones and wearable devices to track and improve their health metrics. Those using personalized health technology are a small outlier of the population who will serve as a leadership group in setting the tone of what post-genomic medicine might look like in consumer-ese. “These are not academic, medical professionals,” says Bland. “These are young men and women who are doing serial analyses on their physiologies on smart phones and developing algorhythms using their own bodies as an experiment to see if they can optimize their function. This is a very different approach to health than waiting for stuff to happen and then treating the symptoms.”
Who’s on trend?
Personalized supplements are not exactly a new idea. In the past decade and a half, many companies have attempted to provide customized nutraceuticals, but very few have proven successful. In the late ‘90s, companies such as Acumins, Sciona, Suracell and others incorporated internet-based questionnaires and DNA tests to create individually tailored supplement solutions. You may also remember Custom Nutrition Services’ CustomPak (1998), which incorporated a type of vending machine to deliver a customized packet of supplements based on a personalized questionnaire.
Past failures do not predict the future, however. Diagnostic platforms such as the Metabolic Code developed by Jim LaValle of Integrated Health Resources now provide comprehensive tools that assess many factors beyond gene snips and use blood work and other lifestyle inputs to develop a comprehensive practitioner-recommended solution for the prevention of chronic illness. Thousands of practitioners have been trained with this platform and are keenly interested in its potential.
Looking into the future, I believe the companies that can provide simple and user friendly diagnostics to measure an individual’s biomarkers, and then deliver a nutraceutical product that can positively impact these metrics, will have the advantage in the age of personalized lifestyle medicine. One example of a early success comes from Pharmanex, a brand developed by Nu Skin. Using a patented biophotonic scanner developed by the University of Utah, Pharmanex distributors are able to test a client’s antioxidant levels before and after taking the company’s NanoLife packet. Through this test/retest protocol, customers are shown tangible evidence that the product is really working. It has been rumored that the scanner has increased incremental revenue for Pharmanex by over $100 million.
Several other companies are partnering directly with medical or educational institutions to offer diagnostic solutions. Pure Encapsulation’s new Pure Heart Protocol, with the tagline, “Screening + Supplements = Success,” is one example. For its cardiometabolic screening process, the company partnered with Cleveland HeartLab (licensed from the well-known Cleveland Clinic) to test for six key biomarkers that gauge everything from lipid balance and blood flow to CoQ10 status, glucose metabolism and oxidative stress. The company then offers product recommendations from Pure Encapsulations’ standard line designed to help bring each specific biomarker into healthy range.
Barlean’s new Ideal Omega test kit, developed in cooperation with Stirling University, is another great example of how supplement companies are using diagnostics. The test breaks down the exact ratio of omega-3 to omega-6 fatty acids in your body and includes a custom report with recommendations for achieving the optimum balance. Although the kits are valued at $150 each, Barlean’s is offering them free to retail partners.
Another company testing the edge of personalized nutrition is Blue Spot Health, which makes a line of nutraceuticals targeting neurology-based issues such as depression, ADHD and autism. The company will be the first to bring “dry spot testing” to the United States. This patented technology, which can test for over 300 biomarkers, allows you to skip the lab visit while also offering much more stability than sending liquid vials through the mail. These biomarkers, along with statistical data and key genetic indicators, are then processed using Blue Spot's proprietary software, co-developed by one of the creators of Harvard’s Genome Project. This cloud-based platform accesses a knowledge base developed by a team of doctors and functional medicine clinical nutritionists and uses all this information to create a personal profile and prescribe a nutraceutical plan, as well as recommend lifestyle modifications, any additional testing and a retesting schedule.
These are but a few examples of what’s to come. In coming years, I predict the winners and losers in the personalized supplements arena will be determined by their diagnostic capabilities and the ability to easily provide custom or semi-custom solutions with measureable results that are simple to understand. In fact, the $100 million supplement company of tomorrow may not even be a supplement company, but rather a diagnostics company that creates or effectively partners with a product line.