AI to power personalised nutrition

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An article that appeared over the weekend in The New York Times by US cardiologist and digital medicine researcher Eric Topol pointed to the power of artificial intelligence to provide personalised diet and nutrition advice. Algorithms that could advise us on what’s lacking in our diet and recommend supplements or foods that would fill those gaps hold great promise for both consumers and VMS marketers, and rapid advances in AI technology are bringing such a reality closer.

However, Topol says that the science of nutrition still remains in its infancy, and that most studies rely on observational data such as food diaries, unreliable sources of information which prevent any high-quality trials establishing cause and effect. More importantly, Topol says the central flaw in this field of research is the idea that there is one optimal diet for all people.

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One pioneer in the field of personalised nutrition is US supplement marketer Thorne, which repackaged its products and launched a new range of at-home diagnostic tests in 2018, providing personalised health and diet plans, including VMS supplement recommendations. Other US VMS marketers operating in this emerging field of personalised nutrition, and which have launched products recently picked up by Nicholas Hall’s OTC New Products Tracker, include Ladder and Persona.

There is also the emerging field of nutrigenomics, with companies marketing DNA tests that offer personalised diet plans, though Topol advises caution here, saying that a truly personalised diet would involve taking many more factors into account than just genetics. He cites the importance of microbiome analysis, lifestyle, medication, family history, immune system and many other factors, and says that no AI is yet on the market that can analyse all this data and offer personalised solutions.

But there is cause for hope. Studies monitoring spikes in blood glucose levels after eating have made some breakthroughs, pointing to the importance of our gut microbiome, and there is now a commercial version of the DayTwo personalised nutrition test available, based on the research of Dr Segal and Dr Elinav. Topol also mentions other advances, such as AI deep learning tools that can analyse smartphone photos of a user’s meals to record nutritional intake, replacing the need for food diaries. Topol also stresses the importance of wearables, such as smartwatches and skin patches, as aids in unlocking a future of virtual health coaches offering personalised nutrition advice to us all.

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