Nutrigenomics, the study of the interaction of nutrition and genes and how that may affect health, has been around for a long time. The completion of the Human Genome Project, sequencing the entire human genome, in 2003 increased interest in the idea of using people’s genetic information to determine their ideal diets. Today, more than a dozen companies offer individualized nutrition recommendations based on a blood sample or cheek swab.

Does Nutrigenomics Work?

The one-size-fits-all approach to weight loss has failed many people, so nutrition tailored to your unique needs sounds especially promising. But the technology may not be there yet, experts say. Both the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, based in the U.S., and the European Union-funded research project called Food4Me say that the science is still emerging.

The Upside

People may be more motivated to follow guidelines that feel specific to them. And the research is promising. When adults who’d previously tried—but failed—to lose and keep off weight were put on a plan tailored specifically to their genes, 73 percent had lost weight after 300 days, compared with 32 percent of those on a general diet. Those on the genetically tailored diet who started with elevated blood sugar were twice as likely as those on the general plan to have numbers in the healthy range.

The Downside

They’re not cheap: Expect to spend at least $200 for an analysis and personalized advice. And there is the possibility that too much information could be discouraging. “A person might say, ‘I am doomed, I might as well throw in the towel,’” says Lawrence Cheskin, M.D., director of the Johns Hopkins Weight Management Center in Baltimore. Several organizations have also expressed privacy concerns regarding potentially sensitive genetic information. For example, the Federal Trade Commission advises consumers to consider the privacy implications of DNA test kits. 

The Middle Ground

Discussing your family history with a doctor or registered dietitian might help you draw some of the same conclusions you’d arrive at from a DNA test, without the steep price or privacy risks.