Diet and Nutrition Critically Important for African-Americans

2011-09-20 09:33

Every racial or ethnic group has specific health concerns due to genetics, cultural or environmental factors or access to care. Researchers are just beginning to consider the impact of gene-diet interactions, for example, to promote best practices for disease prevention and treatment in specific populations. Scientists with Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center have discovered that African-Americans, who are at increased risk for obesity and high blood pressure, process a certain fat differently which cause increased inflammation leading to chronic disease.

Polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA) are chemical molecules that contain more than one double bond. Where this bond is located gives the nutrient a particular chemical property. Two essential PUFAs are omega-3 fatty acids and omega-6 fatty acids.

A balance in the dietary intake of these two fatty acids is essential for good health. However, the usual diet in western countries today contains much less omega-3 fatty acids found in oily fish and flaxseed and much more omega-6 fatty acids found in vegetable oils and animal fats. Experts estimate that over the last 75 years, we have increased our daily intake of omega-6 PUFAs from 2.8% of calories to nearly 8%.

Floyd H. Chilton PhD, a professor of physiology and pharmacology and the director of the Center for Botanical Lipids and Inflammatory Disease Prevention, and Rasika Mathias ScD, an assistant professor of medicine and epidemiology at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, have discovered that Americans of African ancestry more often have a gene variant located in a small region of chromosome 11, known as the FADS cluster (fatty acid desaturase).

The FAD enzyme normally helps to break down fatty acids so they can be used for energy. Genetic interruption to this process has negative impacts on health and development. In the case of African-Americans, the variation causes a conversion of omega-6 fatty acids into inflammatory messengers more often than in European Americans. An increase in inflammation is linked to cardiovascular disease, arthritis, allergies, asthma and diabetes.


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