Is fish oil good for you? Depends on your DNA

Sep 21, 2015


By Elizabeth Pennisi

These days, lots of foods come fortified with omega-3 fatty acids because of their supposed health benefits. But not everyone may reap them equally, according to a new study of native Greenlanders. For people lacking the DNA profile of these hardy people, that extra omega-3 might not do much good at all.

“This paper represents a significant contribution to our understanding of human environmental adaptation,” says Toomas Kivisild, an evolutionary geneticist at the University of Cambridge in the United Kingdom, who was not involved with the study.

The Inuit of Greenland have a tough life: It’s -20°C in the winter, and the usual foods are scarce. Most of their traditional diet consists of fish and marine mammals, which have a very high fat content. “They occupy one of the most extreme environments of all humans,” says Iain Mathieson, a human geneticist at Harvard University. But there is an upside to this diet: Native Greenlanders have a lower risk of heart disease than many other people.

To figure out why, Rasmus Nielsen, a population geneticist at the University of California, Berkeley, and his colleagues compared the DNA of 191 Inuits with that of 60 Europeans and 44 Han Chinese, two populations that were part of previous study of genetic variation.

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One comment on “Is fish oil good for you? Depends on your DNA”

  • ‘And both Nielsen and Gyllensten envision the day when diets will be determined not by the latest fads and research findings, but through personalized genetic profiles. “We realize now that different human populations have adapted to different diets, so what’s healthy for one person might not be healthy for other people,” Nielsen says. “We need to have personalized diet choices based on genetics.” ‘

    Interesting how people adapt to their environment and food source available. Since many of us are genetically diverse – different races, etc., it will be interesting to see how personalized diets will become.

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