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Nutrition, genetics, and risks of cancer.

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Department of Family and Preventive Medicine, Cancer Prevention and Control Program, University of California, San Diego, La Jolla 92093-0901, USA.


Dietary patterns, nutrients, and other constituents of food are major components of the environmental influences that contribute to risk for cancer, and the study of interactions between nutritional and genetic factors is a new and important area or research. This review describes the concepts and principles underlying this area of study and types of relationships between nutritional and genetic factors, and it provides examples of specific diet-gene interactions that are of current interest, with an emphasis on implications for cancer prevention and public health. Polymorphisms exist in the genes for the activating and conjugating metabolizing enzymes, and the induction of metabolizing enzyme activity by nutritional factors may result in either the activation of a carcinogen or the detoxification of a reactive intermediate metabolite. The relationship between the methylenetetrahydrofolate reductase gene and dietary folate is an example of a diet-gene interaction that involves a polymorphism in a vitamin metabolism gene, and the presence of the variant appears to influence both risk for cancer and folate requirements. Diet-gene interactions likely contribute considerably to the observed inter-individual variations in cancer risk in response to exposures to the nutritional factors that have the potential to promote or protect against cancer. Insights into mechanisms by which nutritional factors affect the process of carcinogenesis are provided by knowledge of the targeted gene function and enzyme activity. Increased knowledge in this area will allow a more refined approach to reducing risk for cancer, with diet interventions targeted toward individuals and subgroups that are genetically susceptible and responsive to the effects of nutritional factors.

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