Center for Alaska Native Health Research
Institute of Arctic Biology
205 Arctic Health Research Building


Phone: 907-474-5528

1-888-470-5576 toll-free within Alaska 

Fax: 907-474-5700

Research findings point toward genetic benefits of marine-based diet

April 2012

CANHR’s recent research findings bolster the idea that some Yupiit, who are remarkably healthy despite being overweight, are likely so because of their own genetic interactions with a marine-based diet.

In the recently published article in the Journal of Lipid Research, authors Dominick Lemas, and others sought to answer the question whether eating marine foods, such as seal and salmon, that contain healthy polyunsaturated fatty acids, could modify genetic risk for gaining too much body fat. 

“Our results show that genetic variation in a gene called carnitine palmitoyltransferase 1A and diets enriched with high levels of marine foods may help people burn more fat depending on which genetic variants in the CPT1A gene they carry,” Lemas said in an email explaining the findings.

Obesity is associated with a series of metabolic conditions clinically referred to as metabolic syndrome, which includes a large waist circumference, high blood pressure, high levels of fats in the blood called triglycerides, high blood sugar, and the development of Type 2 diabetes, he said. 

“We don’t know what mechanisms allow Yup’ik Eskimo people to carry excess body weight without developing metabolic abnormalities,” Lemas wrote. 

The findings merit further study, the authors say, as they provide insight into potential mechanisms that relate burning fat and to why Yup’ik Eskimo people are so healthy. It also shows that consumption of marine foods may increase the amount of fat a person can burn depending on their genetic make up. 

Dominick J. Lemas, Howard W. Wiener, Diane M. O'Brien, Scarlett Hopkins, Kimber L. Stanhope, Peter J. Havel, David B. Allison, Jose R. Fernandez, Hemant K. Tiwari, and Bert B. Boyer. (2011)

Genetic polymorphisms in carnitine palmitoyltransferase 1A gene are associated with variation in body composition and fasting lipid traits in Yup'ik Eskimos. Journal of Lipid Research. (53) 175-184. doi: 10.1194/jlr.P018952.

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