Researchers at the University of Virginia discovered new information on how the genes of African-Americans and Hispanic-Americans affect their capacity to utilize Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids for optimal health. The results mark a significant advancement in “precision nutrition,” which proposes that humans can live longer, healthier lives by eating a diet that is specifically adapted to the bodies’ needs.
Both Omega-3 and Omega-6 are “healthy fats.” Although it can be obtained through diet, many individuals also take supplements. Omega-3 supports immune system health and could lower the risk of heart disease, but Omega-6 also supports immune health and has additional advantages.
These fatty acids are crucial for the healthy operation of the cells. The risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease, breast cancer, and other major disorders is expected to be lower in those who have higher blood levels of fatty acids.
People of European origin have been the subject of extensive research into how genes affect the body's capacity to utilize Omega-3 and Omega-6, whereas Americans of Hispanic and African heritage have received far less attention. Ani W. Manichaikul, Ph.D., of UVA, and associates sought to rectify this gap.
Broad commonalities between the groups are shown in their new research, but there are also some significant variances. These discrepancies, according to the researchers, underline the necessity to perform genetic investigations in a variety of populations.
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. 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.”
Ani W. Manichaikul, Ph.D., Associate Professor, Center for Public Health Genomics and Department of Public Health Sciences, University of Virginia
Genetic Influence on Fatty Acid Use
Manichaikul and colleagues analyzed data from more than 2,200 African-Americans and more than 1,400 Hispanic-Americans to better understand these genetic variations. The Cohorts for Heart and Aging Research in Genomic Epidemiology (CHARGE) collaboration, an international organization formed to assist large-scale genetic research, provided access to this data.
According to Manichaikul and colleagues, previous genetic studies on the metabolism of fatty acids in individuals of European ancestry frequently applied to those of Hispanic and African descent.
For instance, a certain region on a chromosome had been identified as a key hub for the control of fatty acid consumption in Europeans, and the same region also turned out to be crucial for people of Hispanic and African heritage. The three groups shared a number of these genetic effects.
However, Manichaikul and her team also discovered significant variations in fatty acid levels in African-Americans and Hispanic-Americans, with multiple previously unidentified genetic causes of variance.
The distinctions between Hispanic and African Americans that the researchers found assist in explaining why their systems utilize fatty acids differently. They also offer solutions to issues like why Hispanic individuals with large Native American heritage frequently have lower blood levels of fatty acids.
According to the researchers, their new results establish the framework for further study into how fatty acid changes could impact the course of diseases like cancer or the functioning of the immune system. Then, “precision nutrition”—a well-planned diet or judicious supplementation—could be applied to enhance those results.
Manichaikul concluded, “Our study found new fatty acid-related genetic variation that we have never found in our earlier studies that did not include as much genetic diversity. In our future research, we will continue to include as much ancestral and genetic diversity as possible, so that we can learn how the vast array of variations in human DNA affect people’s health.”
Yang, C., et al. (2023). Genome-wide association studies and fine-mapping identify genomic loci for n-3 and n-6 polyunsaturated fatty acids in Hispanic American and African American cohorts. Communications Biology. doi.org/10.1038/s42003-023-05219-w