Andhra Pradesh

A good balance of fatty acids keeps you healthy

One man’s meat is another man’s poison is an old adage, but a study conducted by geneticists seems to have found evidence for it. Omega-3 essential fatty acid is anti-inflammatory and helps regulate metabolism. In recent years, supplements rich in Omega-3 were fashionable based on the idea that it may reduce risk of heart disease. (The FDA says that evidence supporting this theory is not conclusive). Omega-6 fatty acid contributes to inflammation and plays an important role in the growth of skin and hair, bone and reproductive health. Inflammatory responses are equally essential to survival. They help fight off infections and protect us from injury. But if the responsive is excessive, it can lead to problems and may contribute to a higher risk of heart disease, cancer and Alzheimer’s disease.

Humans evolved on a diet with ration of Omega-6 to Omega-3 in the ratio 1:1, but Western diet has a ratio that was close to 15:1.

But the new study by a team led by Telugu scientist at Cornell University Kumar Kotapalli showed that different people may need radically different rations of the substances in their diet depending on their genes.

The answer to why some people can stay healthy only by sticking to a strictly vegetarian diet, while others can eat a lot of meat, remain thin and avoid heart disease, lies in their heritage, says Dr. Kothapalli.

Dr. Kothapalli’s team have found genetic variations that have evolved in populations that favoured vegetarian diets over hundreds of generations. The geographic distribution of the genetic variation in vegetarians is spread and includes people from India, Africa and part of East Asia who are known to have green diets even today.

The vegetarian adaptation allows people to efficiently process Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids and convert them into compounds essential for early brain development.

Omega-3 is found in fish, whole grain, olive oil, fruits and vegetables, while Omega-6 is found in beef, pork products and snack foods like cookies, candies, cakes and chips and even nuts and vegetable oils.

Getting a good balance of these two types of fatty acids is essential to stay healthy because the body cannot produce these substances naturally and must get it from food.

Genetic variations

The researchers found two types of genetic variations (alleles), one in vegetarians and another in the Inuit people of Greenland who consume marine food.

The vegetarian and marine alleles control two enzymes FADS1 and FADS2 which are critical to convert Omega-3 and Omega-6 into downstream products needed for brain development and controlling inflammation. People who eat meat and seafood need less of FADS1 and FADS2 enzymes. Their Omega-3 and Omega-6 conversion process is simpler and requires fewer steps. The vegetarian allele did not exist in the apes from which man has evolved.

The study shows that in a world where people have access to a wide variety of foods, the genetic adaptations can act more as a limitations to the kinds of foods they can eat to remain healthy, Dr Kothapalli says.

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Printable version | May 24, 2020 2:08:03 AM |

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