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"Are modern human diets bad to the bone?" by Maureen Devlin

Friday, February 3, 2012
12:00 AM
411 West Hall

The goal of my research is to understand how interactions of diet, bone and fat affect human skeletal biology and metabolism. Although it is well known that micronutrients such as Vitamin D and calcium are crucial for bone health, less is known about how overall caloric intake and macronutrient composition affect the skeleton. These are fundamental questions because obesity and osteoporosis are rising dramatically in prevalence, and there is growing support for the hypothesis that these diseases share common mechanisms, including diet.
The goal of my research is to understand how interactions of diet, bone and fat affect human skeletal biology and metabolism. Although it is well known that micronutrients such as Vitamin D and calcium are crucial for bone health, less is known about how overall caloric intake and macronutrient composition affect the skeleton. These are fundamental questions because obesity and osteoporosis are rising dramatically in prevalence, and there is growing support for the hypothesis that these diseases share common mechanisms, including diet. However, little is known about how diet affects peak bone mass acquisition in children and adolescents. In this talk, I will discuss recent work testing the effects of overnutrition (via high fat diet) and undernutrition (via caloric restriction) on skeletal acquisition in young, rapidly growing mice as a model for humans. The data demonstrate that high fat diet causes both high fat mass and low bone mass, suggesting modern Western diets may be contributing to obesity and osteoporosis. One of the most exciting findings is that caloric restriction increases the amount of fat present in bone marrow. The source and purpose of this fat remain unknown, but it may represent an adaptation to surviving starvation or a pathological consequence of energy restriction. Understanding where these marrow adipocytes come from and what they do is directly relevant to understanding human biological adaptations to starvation, as well as the role of marrow fat in disorders such as anorexia nervosa. Finally, I will discuss the applications of these results to understanding the evolution of the human skeleton, and to reducing the disease burden of osteoporosis and obesity in modern humans.