University of Virginia School of Medicine researchers have discovered new insights into how African-American and Hispanic-American people’s genes influence their ability to use Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids for good health. The findings are an important step toward “precision nutrition” – where a diet tailored to exactly what our bodies need can help us live longer, healthier lives.
Omega-3 and Omega-6 are “healthy fats.” We can get them from foods, but many people also take them as supplements. Omega-3 helps keep the immune system healthy and may lower the risk of heart disease, while Omega-6 promotes immune health and offers other benefits. These fatty acids also play important roles in the proper functioning of our cells. People with higher levels of the fatty acids circulating in their bloodstreams are thought to be at reduced risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease, breast cancer and other serious illnesses.
There has been substantial research into how genes influence the body’s ability to use Omega-3 and Omega-6 among people of European descent, but there has been much less study among Americans of Hispanic and African descent. UVA’s Ani W. Manichaikul, PhD, and colleagues set out to address that disparity. Their new findings reveal broad similarities among the groups but also some important differences – differences the researchers say highlight the need to conduct genetic studies in diverse groups of people.
“People of diverse ancestries have some distinct features in their DNA, and we can find this genetic variation if we include diverse participants in research,” said Manichaikul, of UVA’s Center for Public Health Genomics and Department of Public Health Sciences. “The results from this study bring us a step closer to considering a full spectrum of genetic variation to predict which individuals are at increased risk of fatty acid deficiencies.”
Read full press release in the UVA Health newsroom.