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The Making of Medicine

Ancestry Affects Hispanics’ Risk of Omega-3 Deficiency

Interesting new research from our Ani Manichaikul, PhD, and colleagues highlights how important it is to consider genetic diversity even in large population subgroups. She and her collaborators found that Hispanic people with significant American Indigenous ancestry may be at higher risk for omega-3 deficiency than Hispanic people who trace their roots to Cuba, the Dominican Republic or Puerto Rico.

I'm sure you've heard of omega-3 fatty acids. They're found in fatty fish, nuts and often sold as supplements. They are thought to help prevent heart disease and play an important role in a healthy immune system.

Manichaikul and her collaborators wanted to better understand the effect of American Indigenous ancestry on the body’s ability to process omega-3s. These folks descended from people from Mexico, Central America or South America.

To do that, the researchers looked at naturally occurring variations in a particular cluster of genes, known as the fatty acid desaturase cluster (or FADS), in 1,102 Hispanic-American study participants. The scientists concluded that the gene variations most associated with low fatty acid levels occurred much more frequently in Hispanic people with greater American Indigenous ancestry.

“Each person carries two copies of the FADS gene – one from their mom and one from their dad. Individuals who carry two copies of the version of FADS that is much more common with American Indigenous ancestry will be at the greatest risk of omega-3 deficiencies,” Manichaikul said. “Omega-3 fatty acids have broad-ranging roles in brain development, prevention of cardiovascular disease, diabetes and cancer. Understanding each individual’s risk of omega-3 fatty acid deficiency will be one step in a broader journey toward disease prevention and better health overall.”

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