Nanoscience Reapplied: A Breakthrough In Personalized Nutrition?


By Natalie Telis

Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of disease in America, and has been a focus of dietary medicine for over fifty years. In the course of its history, it has been plagued by sweeping generalizations. A breakthrough was made when increasing cholesterol levels were shown to correlate positively with cardiovascular disease risk; all cholesterol was considered bad and low-cholesterol substitutes, like margarine for butter, took hold of the food market.

It soon became apparent that not all cholesterol was the same. Increasing evidence showed that while high levels of LDL (low density lipoprotein) appeared to increase risk of heart disease, high levels of HDL were associated with its decrease. This became the central dogma of cardiovascular disease dietary recommendations: maximize HDL, minimize LDL. For the last two or three decades, cardiovascular disease risk assessment and prevention has been summarized by this generality.

However, drugs which raise HDL levels have not proved universally effective in decreasing cardiovascular disease. In fact, some trials have appeared to increase its risk, and there is a known genetic mutation in which both HDL and heart disease risk are elevated. It is becoming increasingly apparent that not all HDL is good, though not all HDL is bad. The obvious next question is, “Which is which?”

The answer could be a new analytical strategy to revolutionize personalized nutrition. According to UC Davis Foods for Health Institute (FFHI) director, Dr. J. Bruce German, nanoscientific techniques traditionally used to create new particles can be reapplied to preexisting biological particles. In this way, they can be used to identify nanoparticles unique to individuals. This information can be used to create personalized diets to help alter the individual’s metabolism of specific food matter.

Answering this question about HDL has inevitably been placed atop the list for the FFHI research team. The FFHI is pooling expertise from Food Science, Nutrition, Chemistry, Veterinary Medicine, Medicine, Bioengineering, and Physics. Research focuses on three goals: to identify and classify HDL particle size, composition, and function; to improve diagnostic tools to measure specific types of HDL particles in humans; and to determine how a dietary approach can improve HDL profiles for the individual. 

“As we begin to understand HDL and its diversity, the …strategy won’t be the same for everyone,” says Dr. German. Rather than becoming the key to yet another generalization, “HDL will become another aspect of improving personalized health.” Understanding HDL and how HDL affects each individual could be integral to the “next generation of health diagnostics and …the personalization of health.”