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Environmental Factor

January 2011

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Highlighting the role of nutrition in host susceptibility

By Eddy Ball
January 2011

NIEHS SRP Director Bill Suk, Ph.D.

Suk above, told the audience that growing awareness of what is known as the exposome - the sum total of what makes up the host's internal environment - is changing the scope of toxicology and risk assessment. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

Left to right: Gatchett, Blumberg, Hennig, McClain, Sanderson, Watkins, Suk, and Lambert

The speakers gathered at the end of the workshop. Shown, left to right, are Gatchett, Blumberg, Hennig, McClain, Sanderson, Watkins, Suk, and Lambert. (Photo courtesy of UK SRP)

The old adage about an apple a day keeping the doctor away picked up a Superfund Research Program (SRP) twist during a half-day workshop Dec. 2 at the University of Kentucky (UK). With an impressive lineup of speakers that included NIEHS SRP Director Bill Suk, Ph.D., the workshop explored the topic "Nutrition, Superfund Chemical Toxicity, and Risk Assessment."

In his opening comments, Suk commended organizers of the UK SRP( Exit NIEHS workshop on their choice of topics. "Environmental insult can never be isolated from the way an individual host will respond to it," he said. "It's clear that nutrition can be a potential modulator of diseases that have been associated with exposure to environmental stressors, and this interplay will have important implications in risk assessment."

Developing this theme were researchers from several universities and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), an SRP partner. The workshop was divided into two sessions - one exploring the interaction of nutrition and environmental exposure, and the other surveying the ramifications for risk assessment and study design.

The first speaker, Craig McClain, M.D., offered a clinical perspective on diet and liver disease with his presentation on "Nutrition, Toxins and Steatohepatitis." He was followed by speakers who surveyed nutritional factors that help protect the host - "Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids (PUFA), Environmental Pollutants and Endocannabinoids," by Bruce Watkins, Ph.D.- and ones that may amplify dose response and make the host more susceptible - "Chemical Obesogens and the Obesity Epidemic," by Bruce Blumberg, Ph.D.

EPA representatives explored the regulatory implications of nutritional modulation of the impact of environmental exposures. Annette Gatchett, acting director of the Cincinnati Division of EPA's National Center for Environmental Assessment (NCEA), pondered the difficulties her group faces in a talk titled "Decisions, Decisions: Complexities of Multiple Stressors in Human Health Assessments." With a reference to the father of his field, NCEA toxicologist Jason Lambert, Ph.D., examined diet as a regulator of dose response in his talk, "Paracelsus Tempered: Nutrition as a Biological Rheostat in Cumulative Mixtures Risk Assessment."

The final talk of the day tied together the two sections of the workshop, as Wayne Sanderson, Ph.D., outlined the challenges for future research, "Nutrition: The Over-Looked Confounder and Effect Modifier in Occupational and Environmental Disease Studies." Whether investigators are looking at endocrine disruptors or particulate air pollution, they need to understand that an important part of people is what people eat, and nutrition may well hold the key to why some people are acutely susceptible to environmental exposures, while others seem be unaffected.

Bernhard Hennig, PhD, director of the UK SRP, gave closing remarks, thanking presenters and challenging the audience to explore the nutritional paradigm. "Nutritional interventions may provide the most sensible means to develop primary prevention strategies of diseases associated with many environmental toxic insults," he concluded.

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