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

Negem Nallunailkutaa: the Foods’ Marker Project

Project location: YK Delta

Category: Diet, biomarker development

From left to right, Kate West and Sarah Nash, both former CANHR graduate students.  Sarah worked on the Negem Nallunailkutaa project for her thesis, which she completed in 2013.This study tested whether biomarkers, or chemical measures in blood and hair, could provide accurate information on dietary intake in an Alaska Native study population.  If so, these measures could help to better clarify the relationships between diet and health in other CANHR research projects.  For this study, we worked with 68 study participants in two communities, ranging in age from 14 to 82, making visits between 2008 and 2010.  We measured diet over a month using weekly diet interviews (24 hr recalls), and then collected blood and hair samples for biomarker measurements.  .  We also worked with previously collected blood and hair samples from the CANHR I study.  We found that stable isotope ratios provided strong, valid measurements of traditional marine food intake (fish and marine mammals) as well as of dietary sugar intake (total sugars, added sugars and sugar sweetened beverages).  We then used these biomarkers to demonstrate how intake of traditional foods and sugars were related to health.  We found that traditional food intake was associated with lower blood pressure and increased adiponectin, a hormone that improves the body's sensitivity to insulin.  Sugar intake was associated with increased blood pressure and triglycerides, which are bad fats in the blood.  This project is now completed, although the biomarkers are being used in several ongoing CANHR research projects.

Project Staff: Dr. Diane O'Brien, Sarah Nash (PhD 2013), Dr. Kyungcheol Choy (postdoctoral researcher), Scarlett Hopkins, Eliza Orr, Anna Peter-Raboff, Kristine Niles,

Funded by: NIH COBRE II P20RR016430 and NIH R01DK07442

1.     O'Brien, DM, AR Kristal, MA Jeannet, MJ Wilkinson, A Bersamin, BR Luick.  2009. "Red blood cell δ15N: a novel biomarker of dietary eicosapentaenoic acid and docosahexaenoic acid intake" The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 89(3) 913-919.
2.     Nash, SH*, Kristal, AR, Boyer, BB, King, IB, Metzgar, JS, and DM O'Brien.  2009. "Relation between stable isotope ratios in human red blood cells and hair: implications for using the nitrogen isotope ratio of hair as a biomarker of eicosapentaenoic acid and docosahexaenoic acid."  The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 90:1642-1647.
3.     Nash, SH, Bersamin, A, Kristal, AR, Hopkins, SA, Church, RS, Pasker, RL, Luick, BR, Mohatt, GV, Boyer, BB, and O'Brien, DM.  2012. "Stable nitrogen and carbon isotope ratios indicate traditional marine and market food intake in an indigenous circumpolar population" Journal of Nutrition 142: 84-90.
4.     Nash, SH, AR Kristal, A Bersamin, SH Hopkins, BB Boyer, and DM O'Brien.  2013. "Carbon and nitrogen stable isotope ratios predict intake of sweeteners in a Yup'ik study population" Journal of Nutrition 143: 161-165.
5.     Choy K, SH Nash*, AR Kristal, S Hopkins BB Boyer and DM O'Brien  2013. "The carbon isotope ratio of alanine in red blood cells is a new candidate biomarker of sugar-sweetened beverage intake"Journal of Nutrition 143:878-884.
6.     Nash, SH, Kristal, AR, Hopkins, SE, Boyer, BB, and DM O'Brien 2014.  "Stable isotope models of sugar intake using hair, red blood cells and plasma, but not fasting plasma glucose, predict sugar intake in a Yup'ik study population" Journal of Nutrition 144:75-80.
7.     Nash, SH, Kristal, AR, Bersamin, A, Choy, K, Hopkins, SE, Stanhope, KL, Havel, PJ, Boyer, BB, and DM O'Brien  2014. "Isotopic estimates of sugar intake are related to chronic disease risk factors but not obesity in an Alaska Native (Yup'ik) study population" European Journal of Clinical Nutrition 68:91-96.
8.     O'Brien, DM, AR Kristal, SH Nash, SE Hopkins, BR Luick, KL Stanhope, PJ Havel, BB Boyer 2014. "A stable isotope biomarker of marine food intake captures associations between n-3 fatty acid intake and chronic disease risk in a Yup'ik study population, and detects new associations with blood pressure and adiponectin" Journal of Nutrition 144:706-713.