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How food may influence our cells and overall health

Here's something to contemplate post lunch: In addition to delivering carbohydrates, fats and proteins to your body, the food you gobbled down midday contains nutrients and chemicals that may communicate instructions to your cells. A piece published today in Scientific American offers insights into how our diets may affect overall health:

Cells talk to each other in a complex language of chemical messages. They instruct each other to grow, to move and to respond to threats. Problems in cell communication lead to diseases such as diabetes and cancer. The messages take many forms, including hormones and charged molecules called ions. Cells also listen to signals that come from outside the body.

Recent findings show that molecules found in food can change cell chatter. For example, in 2010 a team of researchers in California and Japan found that omega-3 fatty acids from food bind to a specialized protein studding cell surfaces. That protein, called GPR120, is found in adipose and muscle tissues. When omega-3 fatty acid attaches to the protein, fitting like a key in a lock, GPR120 sets off a chain reaction of cellular events that ultimately protect against weight gain and inflammation.

Understanding the influence of food on cells could offer a better way to design diets, says Randy J. Seeley, the director of the Cincinnati Diabetes Center at the University of Cincinnati. A special diet to tone down inflammation might also combat weight gain or protect against diabetes.

Previously: Nature/nurture study of type 2 diabetes risk unearths carrots as potential risk reducers
Photo by Jeremy Keith

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