Tapping into the potential of personalised nutrition
SummaryFor decades now, global consumers have relied on blanket advice when it comes to their health and wellbeing, with guidance frequently centred on eating well, exercising frequently and sleeping for a recommended period per night.
- Author Company: R&D Director, External Product Development – Outside Innovation, Health
- Author Name: Annemie Venter
Annemie Venter, R&D Director, External Product Development – Outside Innovation, Health
For decades now, global consumers have relied on blanket advice when it comes to their health and wellbeing, with guidance frequently centred on eating well, exercising frequently and sleeping for a recommended period per night. Whilst these adages are still absolutely true, recent decades have witnessed significant advancements in genetics, which have paved the way for a far more personalised approach to maintaining and improving health and wellbeing.
One field where these advancements are having a significant impact is nutrition. According to Grand View Research, personalised nutrition (a category that includes wellness products, dietary supplements, nutraceuticals and functional foods) will see retail sales reach $50 billion by 2025, up from around $11 billion today.
What began as foodstuffs, vitamins and dietary supplements to help boost consumers’ energy levels or improve their skin, has now evolved into solutions that can be personalised to meet individuals’ needs. But this is still only the start.
The market is still very much dominated by preventative solutions – albeit customisable ones. However, the next evolutionary stage could shift the dial towards more specifically targeted solutions.
Bringing effective, personalised nutrition solutions to global consumers will demand extensive collaboration – both within the healthcare sector and externally.
Making the first steps
We’re already seeing significant strides in the vitamin and supplements sub-sector. This is being fuelled both by scientific advancements and consumer appetite. In the UK alone, consumers spend more than £400 million a year on over-the-counter vitamins and supplements, highlighting the sheer demand for solutions in this space. 
It’s an exciting time, as credible, personalised wellness solutions are now emerging to help us meet our bodies’ individual needs. One of the first data-driven supplement products to come to market was Vitalmins. Subscribers to this individualised vitamin programme are asked to complete a health wellness assessment questionnaire, which considers the user’s lifestyle and desired health outcomes, such as achieving a healthy weight. Users then receive a tailored supplement package based on their results.
Behind Vitalmins’ questionnaire sits a complex algorithm developed through years of research at the University of Miami. This collaboration demonstrates the role that technology will play in the future of personalised nutrition and the importance of partnerships.
Combatting chronic conditions
The global health landscape is changing. As populations age and chronic conditions, including obesity and diabetes, rocket up the health agenda, healthcare innovators will turn to personalised nutrition as a means to manage these.
A recent study analysed how nutrients influence and regulate gene activity. This data highlights how personalised nutrition could be used to prevent and treat nutrition-related diseases, but also chronic degenerative diseases. New, customisable solutions that are based on individual genetics and microbiomes could therefore become a tangible part of our future healthcare. In fact, the study concludes that personalised nutrition should be used to help select the most suitable foods for each individual, based on the impact these have on their gut microbiota or gene expression.
When considering the above, personalised nutrition’s potential is palpable. But there are further obstacles that must be overcome if we’re to fully harness the potential of personalised nutrition and accelerate advancements in this space.
Challenges in the space
At present, there are two dominant challenges facing personalised nutrition – credibility and scalability.
Personalised nutrition is an emerging, high growth market, and as such could be exploited by propagators of pseudo-science, keen to take advantage of consumer appetite. This would be incredibly damaging to both the industry and individuals, eroding consumer confidence and drastically reducing take-up of genuinely beneficial solutions. To combat this, it’s imperative that healthcare providers only bring effective, credible solutions to market.
Another challenge is scalability. Key to achieving this will be technological developments like 3D printing, which will make small batch production economically viable and sound. We’re already seeing this technology used in the food sector to print multi-ingredient food items such as chocolate and pasta.
Such technology could potentially be used to customise and even personalise foods and supplements on a mass scale. UK start-up, Nourished, has already launched made-to-order personalised gummies using 3D printing technology. Meanwhile food manufacturers are researching deconstructing foods into ingredients, before using a 3D printer to rebuild them to allow for better control of certain nutritional levels.
The importance of AI and ML advancements
Simultaneously, we’re seeing rapid advancements in AI and machine learning (ML) algorithms. These are now enabling healthcare teams to analyse the reams of data generated through genetic testing, clinical trials and health records to identify patterns and trends within them. The data insight gathered is already being harnessed by healthcare professionals, who are using it to identify where personalised solutions will be both practical and cost-effective, helping to open the door to further innovation in this space.
While advancements in AI and ML have made extensive and accurate data analysis possible, gathering and formatting this data can be time consuming and costly. If we are to make the best use of the data now available, we need a cross-sector effort to rationalise and share it in the safest and most helpful way.
Unlocking the potential of personalised nutrition
The advantages of personalised nutrition are limitless. More effective solutions in this space will enable us to better look after our individual health, with a substantial benefit to national healthcare systems and economies.
However, there are barriers to these benefits being achieved. Realising personalised nutrition’s potential will require interdisciplinary collaboration to ensure the scalability of solutions whilst guaranteeing their credibility.