Berkeley, California – A recent research from the University of California, Berkeley, published in the journal Science, studied the extreme diet of the Inuit natives, which has been characterized to have high levels of omega-3 and other fatty acids.

When the Inuit spread across the Arctic, they didn’t farm fruits, vegetables or grains. Their location didn’t provide many wild plants to forage, despite from the occasional appearance of berries on the tundra. Because of this, the Inuit ate mainly what they could hunt, which was mostly what they could catch at sea, including whales, fish, seals, and other marine creatures that are rich in omega-3. However, despite eating so much fatty meals, the Inuit didn’t have a lot of heart attacks.

Inuit elders eating Maktaaq. Maktaaq is delicacy made from bowhead whale blubber. Credit: Ansgar Walk/Wikipedia

“The indigenous people of Greenland, the Inuit, have lived for a long time in the extreme conditions of the Arctic, including low annual temperatures, and with a specialized diet rich in protein and fatty acids, particularly omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs),” explained the report.

In the 1970s, Danish researchers studying Inuit metabolism proposed that omega-3 fatty acids found in fish were beneficial and protective to several functions of the organism. Those results drove to the conclusion that Westerners eat more fish to help prevent heart diseases and sent million of people searching for fish oil pills. Today, at least 10% of Americans take fish oil supplements.

Nevertheless, recent studies have determined that omega-3 pills and other related, have no actual effect on preventing heart attacks, or any other heart disease. But now, with this new research, things took an interesting twist.

For the analysis, researchers examined the single nucleotide polymorphism (SNP) patterns in 191 Inuit members from Greenland, comparing them with genotyping patterns in dozens of European or Han Chinese Individuals.

Inuits in Greenland have extreme diets and the genes to cope with that. Credit: NORBERT ELSEIS-HEIN/IMAGEBROKER/ALAMY/Science

The research showed that ancestors of the Inuit developed unique genetic adaptations for metabolizing omega-3 and other fatty acids. With evolution, those gene variants resulted in drastic effects on Inuit’s bodies, reducing their weights and heights.

A geneticist from the University of California, Ramus Nielse, who is also author of the report, said that the finding raised questions about whether omega-3 were actually beneficial for everyone. He explained, “The same diet may have different effects on different people.”

Food is a key factor in evolution. When an animal acquires more nutrients, it is more likely to survive and evolve, and humans are no exception.

The Inuit People

Inuit, which is actually plural from Inuk, are a group of culturally similar indigenous peoples who live in the far northern areas of Alaska, Canada, Siberia, and Greenland. They originally settled across the Alaskan coast, but migrated to other areas. Everything about their lives has been (and remains to be) influenced by the cold tundra climate in which they live. For instance, as typical materials to build a house, such as wood and mud, were so hard to find in the Arctic, the Inuit learned to make warm homes out of snow and ice for the winter, commonly known as “igloo”.

The Inuit people were unable to farm and grow their own food in the harsh desert of the tundra, so they mostly lived from meat of hunted animals. They used harpoons to hunt seals, walruses, and the bowhead whale. They also ate fish and foraged for wild berries. A high percentage of their food was high on fats, which gave them energy in the cold weather.

Furthermore, to protect from the extreme low temperature, they used animal skins and furs to stay warm. They made shirts, pants, boots, hats, and big jackets named anoraks from caribou and seal skin. They would line their clothes with furs from animals like polar bears, rabbits, and foxes.

Source: Science