Scientists have been puzzled for years by the Inuit populations’ resilience to cardiovascular disease despite their monotonous high-fat diet based on fatty marine animals such as seal and whales.
The Inuit are known for their exceptional cardiovascular health, low rate of diabetes, and a superior level of fitness although their diet doesn’t contain what Westerners call ‘healthy’ foods. For instance, they do not have access to fresh fruits or vegetables, nuts, and olive oil in their harsh environment.
Instead they rely solely on fat and protein to survive and they manage to stay slim a healthy. Past studies had shown that that may be linked to the healthy Omega 3 fatty acids in their diet, but a recent study challenges those results.
University of California researchers found that the Inuit may present some genetic adaptations people in lower latitudes don’t that allow them to thrive on high-fat foods and stay away from chronic disease.
The team based their analysis on 191 Inuit in Greenland and compared the results with data on people in Western Europe and China. Researchers found that the genetic adaptations lower the metabolism of Omega 3s so that the Inuit’s bodies produce less of the fatty acids. Instead people living in the Arctic got their daily dose of Omega 3 fatty acids from the fatty fish and animals they consume on a daily basis.
Moreover, the genetic adaptations also decreased the Inuit’s bad cholesterol levels, so they have a lower risk of cardiovascular disease including heart attacks, heart failure, and stroke.
Nevertheless, study authors acknowledged that their study was only preliminary because body fat metabolism is not yet fully understood and other factors may be at play.
Joel Hirschhorn, a Harvard researcher who was not involved in the study, said that it isn’t clear whether the genetic adaptations helped Inuit people stay slim and healthy despite their traditional high-fat diet.
Hirschhorn also said that it is not fully understood how those people gained the genetic adaptations but likened the process to the groups who raised cattle and gradually gained tolerance to lactose in milk.
But these adaptations don’t seem to work both ways since the Greenland populations that ditched traditional high-fat diet for a more modern high-sugar, high-protein one tend to develop the same chronic diseases that affect the Western world i.e. obesity, diabetes, and chronic heart disease.
The study was published Thursday in the journal Science.
Image Source: Wikimedia