Diet, Lifestyle & Genetic Sensitivity

The food that we eat constitutes the building blocks that make up our bodies. Every day, each Dane consumes an average of 3 kilogrammes of food and drink, corresponding to a whole tonne per year. Thus, from a quantitative point of view, diet is a person’s most important environmental exposure. It almost goes without saying that diet is decisive to our state of health.

 

Central questions for this area of research include:

  • Which components in our diet are associated with health?
  • How can our diet help to prevent chronic diseases?

We combine our own epidemiological data from the study “Diet, Cancer and Health” with data from the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition, additionally drawing upon the extensive information available from Denmark’s open public registers and databanks. In Denmark we are following 57,000 participants, and the pan-European project includes more than 500,000. Previously, dietary research mainly concentrated on individual components such as vitamins, minerals, and certain foodstuffs. By contrast, today’s researchers look at the entire diet, for instance by examining the impact of replacing certain foods – say, replacing a large meat intake with a large amount of vegetables. One of our recent studies showed that at a detailed nutritional level there was no apparent difference in the frequency of ischaemic heart disease when saturated fats were replaced with carbohydrates. However, when we analysed the various types of carbohydrates, the same study showed that high-fibre  carbohydrates were linked to lower morbidity, whereas refined carbohydrates were associated with higher morbidity rates. Diet is a part of each person’s aggregate lifestyle, and the importance of diet and lifestyle are partially a function of  our particular genetic makeup. Many studies consequently explore the interaction between the three factors: diet, lifestyle, and genetics. The main emphasis is on the significance of diet to the development of cancer, cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, obesity, and mortality.

 

Projects

  1. diet and health - illustrationNumerous studies are based on “Diet, Cancer and Health”, a follow-up study with 57,000 participants between 50 and 65 years of age at the time of recruitment. Information has been collected on diet and lifestyle, together with measures of anthropometry and biological material, including blood, adipose tissue, urine, and nail clippings.
  2. “Diet, Cancer and Health” is part of the joint European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition (EPIC), which follows a total cohort of 520,000 participants from 10 different countries. While the primary focus is on cancer, sub-studies are concentrating on type-2 diabetes (the InterAct programme) and cardiovascular diseases (EPIC-Heart).
  3. The Danish Obesity Research Centre is a national interdisciplinary centre that investigates the causes and consequences of obesity. Data from the “Diet, Cancer and Health” project are used in studies dealing with diet’s impact on the development of obesity, and with the significance of body-stature changes to the development of cardiovascular diseases and type-2 diabetes.
  4. Causes of atrial fibrillation – particularly examining the intake and metabolism of fish and fatty acids in an interdisciplinary project financed by the Danish Council for Strategic Research. These projects are conducted in collaboration with fellow scientists in the UK and the US.

 

Methods

  • Population studies
  • Epidemiology
  • Nutritional epidemiology
  • Biostatistics
  • Informatics.

 

Milestones

Marine n-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids in adipose tissue and the risk of acute coronary syndrome (Joensen AM, et al. Circulation. 2011 Sep 13;124(11):1232–8)

Exploring dietary patterns by using the treelet transform (Gorst-Rasmussen A, et al. Am J Epidemiol. 2011 May 15;173(10):1097–104)

Intake of carbohydrates compared with intake of saturated fatty acids and risk of myocardial infarction: importance of the glycaemic index (Jakobsen MU, et al. Am J Clin Nutr. 2010 Jun;91(6):1764–8)

Study design, exposure variables, and socioeconomic determinants of participation in Diet, Cancer and Health: a populationbased prospective cohort study of 57,053 men and women in Denmark (Tjønneland A, et al. Scand J Public Health. 2007;35(4):432–41)