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Effects of dietary fatty acids on your genes

Omega fatty acid balance can alter immunity and gene expression, says a study appearing in the June 5, 2009 issue of the Journal of Biological Chemistry (JBC), "Effect of dietary fatty acids on inflammatory gene expression in healthy humans," by Kelly L. Weaver, Priscilla Ivester, Michael C. Seeds, L. Douglas Case, Jonathan Arm and Floyd H. Chilton.

Effects of dietary fatty acids on your genes: finding a healthy ratio of oils.
Photo by Michael Buckner/Getty Images

For the past century, changes in the Western diet have altered the consumption of omega-6 fatty acids (w6, found in meat and vegetable oils) compared with omega-3 fatty acids (w3, found in flax and fish oil). Many studies seem to indicate this shift has brought about an increased risk of inflammation (associated with autoimmunity and allergy), and now using a controlled diet study with human volunteers, researchers may have teased out a biological basis for these reported changes, according to the May 29, 2009 news release, "Omega fatty acid balance can alter immunity and gene expression."

Anthropological evidence suggests that human ancestors maintained a 2:1 w6/w3 ratio for much of history, but in Western countries today the ratio has spiked to as high as 10:1

Since these omega fatty acids can be converted into inflammatory molecules, this dietary change is believed to also disrupt the proper balance of pro- and anti- inflammatory agents, resulting in increased systemic inflammation and a higher incidence of problems including asthma, allergies, diabetes, and arthritis.

Floyd Chilton and colleagues wanted to examine whether theses fatty acids might have other effects, and developed a dietary intervention strategy in which 27 healthy humans were fed a controlled diet mimicking the w6/w3 ratios of early humans over 5 weeks. They then looked at the gene levels of immune signals and cytokines (protein immune messengers), that impact autoimmunity and allergy in blood cells and found that many key signaling genes that promote inflammation were markedly reduced compared to a normal diet, including a signaling gene for a protein called PI3K, a critical early step in autoimmune and allergic inflammation responses.

This study demonstrates, for the first time in humans, that large changes in gene expression are likely an important mechanism by which these omega fatty acids exert their potent clinical effects

Corresponding Author: (Ski) Floyd H. Chilton, III, Ph.D., Director, Wake Forest and Brigham and Women's Center for Botanical Lipids, Winston-Salem, NC. You also may want to see the website of the Journal of Biological Chemistry (JBC) or the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology.

You also may wish to check out the abstract of the study, "The importance of the ratio of omega 6/omega3 essential fatty acids," Biomedicine Pharmacotherapeutics, 2002. Several sources of information suggest that human beings evolved on a diet with a ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 essential fatty acids (EFA) of ~1 whereas in Western diets the ratio is 15/1–16.7/1.

How important is the ratio of omega fatty acids?

Western diets are deficient in omega-3 fatty acids, and have excessive amounts of omega-6 fatty acids compared with the diet on which human beings evolved and their genetic patterns were established, notes that study's abstract. One of the big problems is that most people consume too much omega-6, and the omega fatty acids 3, 6, 7, and 9, for example need to be in certain ratios for health.

The abstract of that study explains that excessive amounts of omega-6 polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA) and a very high omega-6/omega-3 ratio, as is found in today’s Western diets, promote the pathogenesis of many diseases, including cardiovascular disease, cancer, and inflammatory and autoimmune diseases, whereas increased levels of omega-3 PUFA (a low omega-6/omega-3 ratio) exert suppressive effects.

So what is the healthiest ratio of dietary omega fatty acids?

In the secondary prevention of cardiovascular disease, a ratio of 4/1 was associated with a 70% decrease in total mortality. A ratio of 2.5/1 reduced rectal cell proliferation in patients with colorectal cancer, whereas a ratio of 4/1 with the same amount of omega-3 PUFA had no effect.

The lower omega-6/omega-3 ratio in women with breast cancer was associated with decreased risk. A ratio of 2–3/1 suppressed inflammation in patients with rheumatoid arthritis, and a ratio of 5/1 had a beneficial effect on patients with asthma, whereas a ratio of 10/1 had adverse consequences.

That study explains that these studies indicate that the optimal ratio may vary with the disease under consideration

This is consistent with the fact that chronic diseases are multigenic and multifactorial. The results of the study note that therefore, it is quite possible that the therapeutic dose of omega-3 fatty acids will depend on the degree of severity of disease resulting from the genetic predisposition.

A lower ratio of omega-6/omega-3 fatty acids is more desirable in reducing the risk of many of the chronic diseases of high prevalence in Western societies, as well as in the developing countries, that are being exported to the rest of the world. You also may wish to check out the abstracts of studies and/or the articles, "Cutting Saturated Fat Intake Won't Prevent Heart Disease: Study," and the USDA study (article) "Intakes of Long-Chain Omega-3 Fatty Acid Associated with reduced risk for death from coronary heart disease in healthy adults."

Understanding binge eating and obesity?

A key challenge in evaluating anti-obesity treatment is determining how to objectively measure a person's desire to eat; with concerns about obesity on the rise, a research team from the University of Cambridge shares a possible solution. You may want to check out the study and its video, "Studying Food Reward and Motivation in Humans," published March 19, 2014 online in the Journal of Visualized Experiments.

Researchers at the University of Cambridge have developed a novel method for evaluating the treatment of obesity-related food behavior. In an effort to further scientific understanding of the underlying problem, they have published the first peer-reviewed video of their technique in JoVE, the Journal of Visualized Experiments.


In the video, the authors demonstrate their means of objectively studying the drivers and mechanisms of overconsumption in humans. To do this, they assesses their subject's willingness to work or pay for food, and they simultaneously track the corresponding brain activity using an MRI scanner.

"We present alternative ways of exploring attitudes to food by using indirect, objective measures—such as measuring the amount of energy exerted to obtain or view different foods, as well as determining brain responses during the anticipation and consumption of desirable foods," says the lab's principal investigator, Dr. Paul Fletcher, according to the March 19, 2014 news release, "Understanding binge eating and obesity."

He and his colleagues use participant hand-grip intensity (referred to as "grip force" in the video) to calculate the motivation for a given food reward

According to Dr. Fletcher, typical approaches for evaluating anti-obesity type drugs rely on more subjective methods—like having test subjects self-report their ratings of hunger and cravings.

"When a person is asked how much they subjectively desire a food, they may feel pressured to give a 'correct' rather than a true answer," says Dr. Fletcher, according to the news release. "[Our] grip force task may, under certain circumstances, present a more accurate reflection of what they really want."

Dr. Fletcher and his colleagues brought the technique to JoVE after using it in their earlier publication, "Food images engage subliminal motivation to seek food," published in 2011. They decided to publish a video capturing the protocol "Because it offered the opportunity to demonstrate the methods more fully," he explains, according to the news release.

In the video, Dr. Fletcher expands on the purpose of publishing the method with JoVE. "Individuals new to the technique may struggle because there aren't many examples of grip-force tasks published in the literature, and there are no full and clear descriptions of how to design and set up the tasks," he says, according to the news release.

With rising concerns surrounding obesity, researchers can use the technique presented in the JoVE video to determine the efficacy of a potential emerging market in anti-obesity medicine.

The term cost-related medication underuse refers to taking less medication than prescribed or not taking it at all due to financial concerns

Chronically ill adults who reported food insecurity in their household (not having consistent access to food due to lack of financial stability) were significantly more likely to report cost-related medication underuse, according to a new study, "Treat or Eat: Food Insecurity, Cost-related Medication Underuse, and Unmet Needs.” The study will appear in print in The American Journal of Medicine, April 2014.You also can read the study's abstract published online since January 21, 2014 in the American Journal of Medicine. Authors of the new study are Seth A. Berkowitz, MD, Hilary K. Seligman, MD, MAS, and Niteesh K. Choudhry, MD, PhD.

Adults with chronic disease are often unable to meet medication and/or food needs, but no study has examined the relationship between cost-related medication underuse and food insecurity in a nationally representative sample, says the new study's abstract. Researchers examined which groups most commonly face unmet food and medication needs.

Certain drugs can keep you alive. For example, a type 1 diabetes patient needs insulin to stay alive, and there are other conditions that require other medicines to keep patients alive.

If you had to choose between choosing a healthy food to use as folkloric medicine or to fulfill a nutritional deficiency, such as cod liver oil to get a small amount of DHA into your body, if you had a deficiency, or choosing a prescription drug and only had the money to pay for one or the other, which would you choose?

Food insecurity linked to cost-related medication underuse in chronically ill Americans. Treat or eat: Many are forced to choose between food or medicine, reports The American Journal of Medicine. Then again, there are people who have a lot of money to spend on organic food who have walked away from conventional medicine if there's a nutritional way to get at the root cause of a health problem caused by deficiencies or environmental pollution.

For example, take the very food secure using fresh, organic food as medicine as compared to those with enough money who spend the money on prescription medicines instead of changing their diet and lifestyle. Now, in a new study, researchers have found that chronically ill adults who reported food insecurity in their household (not having consistent access to food due to lack of financial stability) were significantly more likely to report cost-related medication underuse, according to a new study in The American Journal of Medicine. Elsevier Health Sciences.

The term cost-related medication underuse refers to taking less medication than prescribed, or not taking it at all due to financial concerns. It's as if underuse of medications is described as a deficiency of a certain expensive drug rather than trying to fix the problem with a change of diet or supplements specifically tailored to an individual instead of drugs with severe side effects.

Despite renewed optimism about the economy, many people in the United States continue to feel financial hardships

In 2012, 1 in 5 Americans reported having trouble meeting basic needs, and on top of that, 1 in 6 people reported having no form of health insurance. For the chronically ill, the difference between paying rent or putting food on the table may be the cost of their medication.

In order to explore the possible link between food insecurity and cost-related medication underuse, investigators looked at 9696 adult participants in the National Health Interview Survey (NHIS) who had reported chronic illness. They found that 23.4% of the chronically ill study participants reported cost-related medication underuse, while 18.8% reported food insecurity and 11% reported both. This means that 1 in 3 chronically ill NHIS participants are unable to afford food, medications, or both.

Underuse of medication is studied rather than underuse of the healthiest super foods

Investigators also looked at ethnicity and found that participants with both medication underuse and food insecurity were more likely to be Hispanic or non-Hispanic black. They were also more likely to have several chronic conditions versus those participants who reported no food insecurity or medication underuse and a lack of insurance was more prevalent in groups with medication underuse.

"The high overall prevalence of food insecurity and cost-related medication underuse highlights how difficult successful chronic disease management in the current social environment is," says lead investigator Seth A. Berkowitz, MD, Division of General Internal Medicine, Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School, according to the March 21, 2014 news release, Food insecurity linked to cost-related medication underuse in chronically ill Americans. "These findings suggest residual unmet needs for food-insecure participants and thus have clear implications for health policy."

This link between food insecurity and medication underuse can help guide future public policy by targeting groups susceptible to both

For example, researchers found that respondents who participated in Medicaid or the Woman, Infants, and Children (WIC) food and nutrition service were less likely to report both food insecurity and cost-related medication underuse. "The observations that Medicaid and WIC participation is associated with lower odds of both food insecurity and cost-related medication underuse suggest that there may be important 'spill-over' effects from programs that target food insecurity or cost-related medication underuse, by freeing up available resources," adds Dr. Berkowitz, according to the news release.

This study pinpoints populations that can benefit from policy changes influenced by this new data. Investigators noted that participants with incomes 100%-200% above the Federal Poverty Line, who are not always eligible for government assistance, reported high rates of food insecurity and cost-related medication underuse. This information is important to consider when setting program eligibility rules in the future.

"We report an association between public insurance programs, such as Medicaid and owed cost-related medication underuse compared with private insurance prescription benefits," explains Dr. Berkowitz, according to the news release. "Low- or no-cost sharing prescription drug benefits have been associated with improved health outcomes in a general population, as well as the reduction of socioeconomic disparities in health outcomes."

For policy makers, food insecurity represents an easily identified risk factor for cost-related medication underuse, making it simpler to find programs and strategies to address this endangered group in a meaningful way

"Food insecurity is strongly associated with cost-related medication underuse, and approximately 1 in 3 chronically ill NHIS participants are unable to afford food, medication, or both, despite participation in assistance programs," concludes Dr. Berkowitz, according to the news release. Interventions targeted to under-resourced groups who may face 'treat or eat' choices could produce substantial health gains for these vulnerable patients." You may also want to see the abstract of another study by different researches, "The Placebo Effect: The Good, The Bad And The Ugly."

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