Micronutrients and heavy metals and health
My research interests lie primarily in identifying the role of micronutrients in health and disease. This work involves accurately quantifying micronutrient levels within different food products within the diet and also in developing tools to assess their bioavailability within the body.
I have also recently developed an interest in heavy metals and their effects on health. Heavy metals including mercury, cadmium and lead can be ingested from the diet and evidence suggests that certain micronutrients play a role in alleviating their toxicity within the body.
This research will help the food industry to make healthier products and provide information on how micronutrients act to promote health.
We have been investigating the function of dietary fatty acids and micronutrients in human health and disease and in particular cardiovascular disease (CVD). Using a model of heart disease we have shown that consuming a high fat diet lacking one micronutrient (selenium) increases heart disease more compared to consumption of the same diet containing selenium. Furthermore, these effects correlated with the levels of ‘bad’ fatty acids within the bloodstream. Additionally, other studies have shown that selenium has an anti-inflammatory effect both within immune cells and endothelial cells (which line the inside of blood vessels) and that it can reduce the interaction between these cell types, which is an important early step in heart disease development. More recent work has involved investigating nutrient-nutrient interactions relevant to CVD.
Currently, we are investigating the effects of seasonality and location on shellfish micronutrient levels and the effect of regular shellfish consumption on modulating micronutrient status in humans. These studies have ranged from measuring conventional markers of nutrient intake, to developing tools to assess micronutrient bioavailability as well as developing improved markers to assess micronutrient status and have encompassed work at both cellular and tissue level and intervention studies within animal models and in humans.
The objective of this work has been to obtain evidence for the involvement of specific nutrients in promoting health and alleviating disease in order to provide more informed dietary advice on their optimum requirements within the population. Previous work has focused on how the changing composition of feedstuffs within the aquaculture and dairy industries driven by issues of sustainability, impact on ultimate product nutritional quality and the likely influence on health for the consumer. Funding from the Wellcome Trust and British Heart Foundation have also investigated the influence of genotype and chemical speciation on micronutrient function, bioavailability and health.
Research Funding and Grants
- RESAS (Scottish Government): Improving primary produce; Food Safety; Improvement of livestock.
- Industrial Funding: ‘Crab consumption, cadmium and health; do crabmeat consumers have a greater cadmium burden compared to non-crabmeat consumers?
- IMMANA: Aquatic Food for Health and Nutrition (AQN): A metric for assessing the impacts on nutrition and health of agroecosystems producing farmed seafood.
- Elphinstone PhD studentship:‘The effect of selected micronutrients on endothelial cell function with relevance to atherosclerosis’
- Encompass Kick-start Award: “Developing bioactive mapping in seaweeds as a quality assurance tool” (co-applicant)
- Fraserburgh Moonlight Prowl PhD studentship: ‘Omega-3 endocannabinoids: novel anticancer lipid ethanolamides’.
- RESAS (Scottish Government), Healthy and safe diets
- British Heart Foundation: ‘Atherosclerosis: the effect of selenium speciation and dose’.
- Wellcome Trust Project Grant: ‘Interaction of selenium, fatty acids and a polymorphism in GPX4 in modulating vascular function’.