Metabolomics in human nutrition: opportunities and challenges

Am J Clin Nutr. 2005 Sep;82(3):497-503. doi: 10.1093/ajcn.82.3.497.


Metabolomics has been widely adopted in pharmacology and toxicology but is relatively new in human nutrition. The ultimate goal, to understand the effects of exogenous compounds on human metabolic regulation, is similar in all 3 fields. However, the application of metabolomics to nutritional research will be met with unique challenges. Little is known of the extent to which changes in the nutrient content of the human diet elicit changes in metabolic profiles. Moreover, the metabolomic signal from nutrients absorbed from the diet must compete with the myriad of nonnutrient signals that are absorbed, metabolized, and secreted in both urine and saliva. The large-bowel microflora also produces significant metabolic signals that can contribute to and alter the metabolome of biofluids in human nutrition. Notwithstanding these possible confounding effects, every reason exists to be optimistic about the potential of metabolomics for the assessment of various biofluids in nutrition research. This potential lies both in metabolic profiling through the use of pattern-recognition statistics on assigned and unassigned metabolite signals and in the collection of comprehensive data sets of identified metabolites; both objectives have the potential to distinguish between different dietary treatments, which would not have been targeted with conventional techniques. The latter objective sets out a well-recognized challenge to modern biology: the development of libraries of small molecules to aid in metabolite identification. The purpose of the present review was to highlight some early challenges that need to be addressed if metabolomics is to realize its great potential in human nutrition.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Diet
  • Environment
  • Gene Expression Regulation
  • Genomics / methods*
  • Genotype
  • Health Status
  • Humans
  • Metabolism / drug effects
  • Metabolism / genetics
  • Metabolism / physiology*
  • Nutritional Physiological Phenomena*