Diet For Your Genes

Donna and Allison Upchurch
She's a healthy baby girl, but Allison Upchurch has a rare genetic mutation that can cause protein to build up like poison – it's called gluteric acedemia type one.

Allison's mother Donna says the condition can be fatal, but, as CBS News Correspondent Wyatt Andrews reports, doesn't have to be.

The only treatment, Upchurch says, is diet.

"We just have to give her certain foods," Upchurch says.

Treating a genetic condition with food might seem low-tech, but it's cutting-edge medicine. Scientists have long known that genes influence health. What's new is they now believe that certain foods can influence a person's genes.

The science is called neutrigenomics.

Dr. Jose Ordovas, who runs the nutrigenomics lab at Tufts University, is studying how food and genes interact in heart disease. He wants to know if Patrice Rider's genes will lower her cholesterol - on a very specific low fat diet.

"I have to eat everything," says Rider. "I have to scrape the bowl and lick the bowl."

What Ordovas is learning is surprising. It turns out a low-fat diet will not lower everyone's cholesterol. It depends, Ordovas says, primarily on the person's genetic makeup.

Another Tufts researcher, Dr. Joel Mason, studies why folate, a nutrient found in greens like broccoli, gives certain people stronger protection against colon cancer.

"Some people, based on their genetic background, might require more folate than others," Mason says.

If they ate more folate foods, Mason says, "They might more effectively reduce their risk of developing cancer."

The promise of neutrigenomics is one day based on an individual's DNA, and the next day a person's prescription may be a list of foods.

"What we are learning is how to feed properly our genes as individuals, because each one of us will need different fuels," Ordovas says.

Which in a way makes us all like Allison Upchurch. We will learn, after a DNA test, where we are vulnerable and then customize a diet to extend our lives.