NC1199: N-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids and human health and disease
Statement of Issues and JustificationThe need as indicated by the stakeholders: N-3 fatty acids are widely recognized as beneficial dietary components. In support, numerous scientific societies or governing bodies such as the American Heart Association, American Diabetes Association, American Dietetic Association, Institute of Medicine (IOM) Report on Seafood Choices and the FAO/WHO Expert Consultation on the Risks and Benefits of Fish consumption recommend consuming oily fish at least twice per week. Although the IOM of the National Academy of Sciences has established Dietary Reference Intakes (DRIs) for ±-linolenic acid, they do not provide DRIs for longer chain n-3 fatty acids such as eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). The IOM highlights the need for addition research to look at the roles of n-3 fatty acids in numerous diseases including cancer, inflammatory and metabolic disorders and degenerative diseases of the central nervous system. The problem: Although numerous scientific bodies recommend n-3 fatty acid consumption, the effects of n-3 fatty acids on health outcomes is poorly characterized for many diseases. Additionally, the mechanism through which n-3 fatty acids work to elicit the beneficial effects is also only partially known. As evidenced by the lack of recommendations by the IOM for EPA and DHA, the specific effects of different n-3 fatty acids requires further investigation before accurate DRIs can be developed. An underlying problem regarding n-3 fatty acids is the confusion amongst the public about the health benefits of short chain and long chain n-3 PUFA fatty acids. Members of the NC-1039 Committee have been at the forefront of n-3 fatty acid research. This group brings together a wide-range of expertise that uniquely can expedite scientific discovery and translation. The overall goal of this application is to further characterize the functional effects of n-3 fatty acids on health-related outcomes, the mechanisms through which they exert their effects, and to provide scientific-based information via an eXtension website to the public domain.
This project addresses the goals of the Experimental Station Committee on Organization and Policy Science Roadmap Challenge 5 - We must improve human health, nutrition, and wellness of the US population. The current proposal addresses this challenge directly by focusing on the role of dietary n-3 fatty acids on numerous health conditions and translating information on n-3 fatty acids to the public. This project also addresses two Food and Nutrition Crosscutting Research Areas (NCRA) and Objectives of the North Central Regional Association. The two crosscutting objectives to be addressed by NC-1039 are: Research Objective 1 - Emphasize research that expands our understanding of the relationship between diet, health and disease prevention with particular focus on antioxidants, dietary lipids, functional foods/nutraceuticals, nutrient bioavailability, nutrient regulation of gene expression and nutrition and physical activity, and Research Objective 2 - Design effective nutrition education programs and delivery methods that modify human behavior such that individuals including those most at risk (pregnant women, infants, adolescents and the elderly) choose healthier diets. Aims 1 and 2 of this project will address NCRA objective 1 and 2 and Aim 3 will address NCRA objective 2.
In addition to serving as a source of energy, n-3 fatty acids have numerous functions in the body and contribute to overall health by targeting multiple biological systems. Moreover, n-3 fatty acids are potent signaling molecules that influence biology beyond their basic nutritional value. Because of these broad ranging effects of n-3 fatty acids, the complexity of the mechanisms through which n-3 fatty acids work to influence health have not been fully elucidated. Although the effects of long chain n-3 fatty acids on a few health conditions such as cardiovascular disease (CVD) and hypertriglyceridemia and the effect of the n-3 DHA for optimal infant growth and cognitive development have been well-documented, their effects on etiology or outcomes of other conditions have not been comprehensively examined. Because of this lack of knowledge, their remains inconsistencies in dietary recommendations for the type and source of n-3 fatty acids and, as a result, confusion amongst the public. Thus, there is a clear need to better define and communicate the benefits of n-3 fatty acids. A groups such as NC-1039 whose recommendations and messages are based on the most current science must emerge as the trusted source of n-3 health information to combat the misinformation being provided to the public by non-scientific, non-medical organizations.
Importance of the work: The lack of a specific DRI for an important nutrient such as long chain n-3 fatty acids (EPA and DHA) results directly from insufficient data to support a DRI. This is concerning given the well-documented effects of long chain omega-3 fatty acids on lowering the risk for cardiovascular disease, the number one leading cause of mortality in the United States. Despite the lack of a specific DRI for the long chain n-3 fatty acids, consumption of EPA and DHA is recommended by most health experts. However, the relationship between n-3 fatty acids and health disorders outside of CVD are poorly understood. Studies have implicated a beneficial role of n-3 fatty acids promotion of infant cognitive development and prevention of numerous diseases including cancer, bipolar disease, hypertension, Type 2 Diabetes, obesity, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, inflammatory/autoimmune diseases (i.e. asthma, rheumatoid arthritis, inflammatory bowel disease), cognitive development, reproduction, Alzheimers and other dementia-related diseases, lupus, osteoporosis and depression. Most studies examining n-3 fatty acids are retrospective and even fewer studies delve into the mechanism through which n-3 fatty acids provide preventative or therapeutic effects. Therefore, a clear need exists for more research on the health effects of n-3 fatty acids. The first two aims of this project will specifically address the effects of n-3 fatty acids on different disease outcomes and the mechanism through which n-3 fatty acids elicit their health-promoting effects.
Despite the general recommendation for Americans to consume n-3 fatty acids, actual intakes remain low. US intakes of n-3 fatty acids is ~1.6 g/d, of which 1.4 g is ALA and 0.1- 0.2 g is EPA and DHA (1). These intake values are well below those recommend by AHA and other governing bodies that range from 0.3 to 0.9 g/d. Based on these data, it is clear that there is a need to better communicate the benefits of EPA and DHA to the general public in an attempt to increase dietary consumption. Because of the lack of data, there is also confusion amongst the public regarding the role of n-3 fatty acids in preventing or treating specific diseases. Taken together, a readily available and accurate source of information on health benefits of n-3 fatty acids for the general public is needed. The third aim of this project involves the launch and maintenance of a website that will specifically address these needs.
Consequences if not done: Without this research, the advancement of our understanding of n-3 fatty acids in the prevention and treatment of diseases will be slowed. This is important because of the prevalence of these diseases in the American population and their serious impact on the healthcare economy. It is imperative that we not lump all n-3 fatty acids together with the assumption that they have similar biological properties. The USDA needs a unified, evidence based, consortium of fatty acid nutrition experts such as members from the NC-1039 to present accurate information to the public. To this end, the n-3 fatty acid site of the eXtension website was developed to provide answers to questions commonly asked by the public about n-3 fatty acids and to act as an educational resource for medical and public health professionals. The most effective methods to implement dietary behavior change is rigorous experimentation, particularly in relation to reducing total fat intake. However, these educational theories have not been applied to the area of n-3 fatty acid intake and without this data success is questionable. In addition, education to increase intake of n-3 fatty acids is further complicated because it contradicts previous nutrition communications recommending dietary fat reduction. Therefore, without these studies, n-3 PUFA as a tool for optimum growth and development, health promotion and disease prevention will remain unclear to the biomedical community.
Technical feasibility of the research: The scientists that make up the technical committee on NC-1039 are leaders in their respective disciplines as it relates to the n-3 fatty acid research. The methods outlined in this proposal are standard procedures developed and perfected by each of the investigators. As a result, each member provides a unique perspective to the problem, when seamlessly blended, will result in definitive answers. Each investigator has an established track record of publications validating his/her own expertise in performing the relevant methodologies need to accomplish our objectives. This applies to the biological as well as the social science portions of the proposal.
Advantages for doing the work as a multistate effort: The NC-1039 Research Project addresses the role of dietary n-3 fatty acids in the promotion of health. No single station has the expertise or resources to investigate all the components needed to establish health driven guidelines for n-3 fatty acid intakes. We will put forth an integrative effort that combines the strengths and capacities of each investigator. In the case of the basic scientists, numerous collaborations are outlined in this project that bring together the expertise of multiple individuals to perform studies that otherwise could not have been done alone. Similarly, the eXtension site will rely upon the broad and extensive expertise of this group to provide web content that maintains the site and makes it an effective education tool.
Significance and impact from successful completion of the proposed work: Upon completion, this work will result in numerous advances in public health. First, we expect data generated from the aims outlined herein to expand our knowledge on the effects of n-3 fatty acids on disease outcomes, thereby, coming closer to confirming specific health benefits of n-3 fatty acids. Ultimately, we anticipate that these data will also lead to specific RDIs for individual n-3 fatty acids. Secondly, we expect to further understand the mechanisms of how omega-3 fatty acids effect different biological systems, which will both advance our understanding of n-3 fatty acids and provide insights into the development of specific diseases. Third, the launch and maintenance of the n-3 eXtension website will provide an easily accessible and accurate avenue for translating our knowledge of health effects of n-3 fatty acids to the public. This website has the potential to increase n-3 fatty acid consumption and to point people towards the use of n-3 fatty acids as a preventative or therapeutic agent against specific diseases. Taken as a whole, we expect the NC-1039 to provide a significant and lasting effect on improving health through the consumption of n-3 fatty acids.
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