Nutrition in the News

Ask the expert: Omega-3 fatty acids

The Expert: Dr. Frank Sacks


Professor of Cardiovascular Disease Prevention, Department of Nutrition, Harvard School of Public Health

1. What are omega-3 fatty acids, and why should I make sure to include them in my diet?

Omega-3 fatty acids (also known as n-3 fatty acids) are polyunsaturated fatty acids that are essential nutrients for health. We need omega-3 fatty acids for numerous normal body functions, such as controlling blood clotting and building cell membranes in the brain, and since our bodies cannot make omega-3 fats, we must get them through food. Omega-3 fatty acids are also associated with many health benefits, including protection against heart disease and possibly stroke. New studies are identifying potential benefits for a wide range of conditions including cancer, inflammatory bowel disease, and other autoimmune diseases such as lupus and rheumatoid arthritis.

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Ask the expert: Vitamin D and chronic disease

The Expert: Dr. Edward Giovannucci

Dr. Edward Giovannucci

Professor of Nutrition and Epidemiology, Departments of Nutrition and Epidemiology, Harvard School of Public Health

1. There’s been a lot of news lately about vitamin D’s role in prevention of cancer, heart disease, and other chronic diseases. What do we know today—and what questions remain?

Vitamin D has a well-established role in maintaining calciumlevels in the body and in building strong bones. That’s why vitamin Ddeficiency could increase the risk of osteoporosis. In addition, elderly whodon’t get enough vitamin D have weaker muscles and are more prone to falls,which could further increase the risk of fractures.

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Ask the expert: Controlling your weight

 The Expert: Dr. Walter Willett

Dr. Walter Willett

Fredrick John Stare Professor of Epidemiology and Nutrition, Departments of Nutrition and Epidemiology, and Chair, Department of Nutrition, Harvard School of Public Health

 

1. How much control do we have over our body weight? And how much of our weight is controlled by our genes?

Genes do play a role in controlling our weight, but clearly they do not explain the huge increases in overweight and obesity we have seen in the last 30 years. We gain weight when our “calories in” (the food we eat) exceeds our “calories out” (the energy we burn). Given the genetic package we are born with, we can all improve our weight by paying attention to diet and getting regular physical activity, but some people will need to work harder than others to maintain a healthy weight. In other words, if we all eat and work out the same, we will not all look the same. Only a very small percentage of people have such a strong genetic predisposition that they will be obese no matter how hard they try. Even people who are genetically predisposed to obesity can reduce their risk of chronic disease by eating a healthful diet and staying active.

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Faculty in the Media 2007

Changes to Diet and Lifestyle May Help Prevent Infertility from Ovulatory Disorders — press release of October 31, 2007 featuring HSPH’s Walter Willett and Jorge Chavarro

Obesity Nears Smoking As Cancer-Causer — coverage from CBS news, October 31, 2007 featuring HSPH’s Walter Willett

Weight Gain Between First and Second Pregnancies Associated With Increased Odds of Second Child Being a Boy — press release of September 24, 2007 featuring HSPH’s Eduardo Villamor

As Vitamins Go, D, You Are My Sunshine — coverage from the Washington Post, September 18, 2007 featuring HSPH’s Edward Giovannucci

Overweight Prevention Program May Cut Risk of Eating Disorders Among Girls — press release of September 3, 2007 featuring HSPH’s Karen Peterson

High Blood Levels of Urate Linked to Lower Risk of Parkinson’s Disease — press release of June 21, 2007 featuring HSPH’s Alberto Ascherio

Multivitamins Improve Birth Outcomes Among Children Born to HIV-Negative Women in Developing Countries — press release of April 4, 2007 featuring HSPH’s Wafaie Fawzi

Higher Trans Fat Levels in Blood Associated With Elevated Risk of Heart Disease — press release of March 27, 2007 featuring HSPH’s Qi Sun, Frank Hu and Walter Willett