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Genetic study reveals new insights into fatty acid metabolism in diverse populations

by News Staff
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Researchers from the University of Virginia School of Medicine have made significant progress in understanding how the genes of African-American and Hispanic-American individuals influence their ability to utilize Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids for improved health. This breakthrough contributes to the concept of “precision nutrition,” tailoring diets to individual needs for enhanced well-being.

Omega-3 and Omega-6 are recognized as “healthy fats” available in foods and supplements. Omega-3 supports immune system health and can lower the risk of heart disease, while Omega-6 promotes immune health and offers various benefits. These fatty acids also play essential roles in cell function, potentially reducing the risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, Alzheimer’s, breast cancer, and other severe illnesses when present at higher levels in the bloodstream.

While there has been extensive research on how genes impact the use of Omega-3 and Omega-6 in individuals of European descent, there has been a significant lack of research on individuals of Hispanic and African descent in the United States. Researchers, led by Dr. Ani W. Manichaikul at UVA’s Center for Public Health Genomics, aimed to address this disparity. Their findings demonstrate both similarities and crucial differences between these groups, underscoring the importance of diverse genetic studies.

Dr. Manichaikul emphasizes, “Diverse ancestral backgrounds carry unique genetic features, and by including diverse participants in research, we can identify this genetic variation. The results from this study move us closer to considering a wide range of genetic variations to predict the individuals at higher risk of fatty acid deficiencies.”

Genetic influence on fatty acid use

To delve deeper into these genetic distinctions, Dr. Manichaikul and her team examined data gathered from over 1,400 Hispanic-Americans and more than 2,200 African-Americans. This data was sourced from the Cohorts for Heart and Aging Research in Genomic Epidemiology (CHARGE) consortium, an international collaborative group aimed at facilitating extensive genetic analyses.

Their investigation revealed that many of the genetic findings regarding fatty-acid metabolism in individuals of European descent remained applicable to those of Hispanic and African descent. For instance, a specific chromosome location identified as vital for fatty acid regulation in Europeans turned out to be equally important for Hispanic and African populations. Shared genetic influences were evident across these three groups.

However, the researchers also unearthed significant differences. These disparities in Hispanic-Americans and African-Americans shed light on why their bodies metabolize fatty acids differently. These findings also provide insights into questions such as why individuals of Hispanic descent, particularly those with significant American Indigenous ancestry, tend to have lower levels of fatty acids in their bloodstream.

These newly discovered genetic variations form the foundation for future studies that will explore how variations in fatty acids may impact disease outcomes, such as cancer, and influence immune system function. This research could pave the way for “precision nutrition,” involving customized diets or targeted supplementation to enhance health outcomes.

Dr. Manichaikul commented, “Our study has unveiled novel genetic variations related to fatty acids, which we hadn’t previously identified in earlier studies lacking this level of genetic diversity. In our ongoing research, we will continue to embrace diverse ancestral and genetic backgrounds to better understand how the vast array of human DNA variations affects individuals’ health.”

The research findings have been published in Communications Biology.

Source: University of Virginia

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