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NIH begins massive study on dietary effects of food on individual patients


‘Nutrition for Precision Health’ seeks out how each body responds differently to food.

© Madison Page - PBRC

A participant has his in-person visit at Pennington Biomedical Research Center for the Nutrition for Precision Health study.
© Madison Page - PBRC

What’s on the menu for best health?

Researchers aim to find out if and how much those foods vary from person to person.

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) is enrolling participants for a possible new landmark initiative on diet and nutrition. The study seeks 10,000 participants of diverse backgrounds to work with 14 sites around the country to “learn more about how our bodies respond differently to food.”

The project, called Nutrition for Precision Health (NPH), powered by the All of Us Research Program of NIH, aims to move physicians and other clinicians closer to precision health, said John Kirwan, PhD, executive director at Pennington Biomedical Research Center in Louisiana, one of the study sites that announced the project nationally.

“The study will generate a massive dataset, a wealth of biospecimens, and the algorithms that will lead to personalized dietary prescriptions that can promote health, prevent heart attacks or strokes, and importantly, address health disparities,” Kirwan said in a news release.

Nutrition is important to prevent and treat chronic conditions and diseases including hypertension, diabetes, and stroke. The study goal is to move from a “one size fits most” approach, to more specific recommendations based on individual characteristics and environments, according to the study plans.

How it works

NPH will have three components.

To start, adult participants will complete surveys, supplying reports on daily diets and and the lood, urine, and stool samples for lab tests. Then the group will be divided, with all participants eating diets selected by researchers, and with some participants living at research centers. There will be meal challenges to examine biological changes that happen from eating or drinking supplied meals and drinks. The study will consider how genes, lifestyle, health history, the gut microbiome, and social determinants of health influence a person’s response to diet, according to plans.

“What we need is precision, the ability to prescribe diets that account for the factors unique to each person, such as their genetics, metabolism, physiology, behavior, even the microorganisms in their body,” Leanne Redman, PhD, said in the news release. Redman is Pennington Biomedical associate executive director for scientific education.

There are 13 research sites in Alabama, California, Illinois, Louisiana, Massachusetts, and North Carolina. The study period is expected to last about two weeks from initial screening to first study visit, at-home data collection and the second study visit.

AI in the analysis

Researchers plan for NPH to use artificial intelligence-based approaches to analyze participants and develop algorithms that predict responses to dietary patterns. The study’s findings may one day allow healthcare providers to offer more customized nutritional guidance to improve overall health, according to plans.

“Poor diet is one of the leading causes of preventable disease and death around the world. If everyone followed the healthy eating guidelines that we have available now, we still may not achieve optimal health because our bodies respond differently to food,” NPH Coordinator Holly Nicastro, PhD, MPH, said in the press release. “Through this study, we are looking to better understand differences in individual responses and pave the way for more tailored guidelines in the future.”

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