Episode 9 with Jorn Dyerberg
Dr. Jorn Dyerberg tells the story of discovering the role of omega-3s in human health. It’s his story to tell. More than 50 years ago as a young medical student, Dr. Dyerberg and his mentor set out to understand how Greenland Inuits could have such a low rate of heart disease while living on a high fat diet. A sense of adventure, sled dogs, seal blubber, scientific methods, commitment to publish, and collaboration are all part of the story that launched the science of marine-sourced omega-3s.
- Dr. Dyerberg’s journey to Greenland (5:40)
- Research that contributed to Dr. Dyerberg and Dr. Bang’s omega-3 discovery (8:24)
- Omega-6 research on blood clotting tendencies (11:08)
- Medical research acceptance and clinical trials on omega-3s (17:26)
- Clarifying comments on bleeding tendencies (19:43)
- Closing thoughts on life’s research & omega-3 deficiencies (26:33)
Resources Mentioned in this Episode
Any statements on this podcast are the opinion of the scientific guest and/or author and have not been evaluated by the FDA. The information we may provide to you is designed for educational purposes only and is not intended to be a substitute for informed medical advice or care. This information should not be used to diagnose, treat, or prevent any health issues or conditions without consulting a health care professional. If you are experiencing a health issue or condition, we suggest you consult with your health care professional.
Hello, and welcome to The Science and The Story: Behind Omega-3, a podcast brought to you by Wiley companies, where we explore one of the most researched nutrients on the planet. Listen in as global omega-3 experts and researchers translate the science, reveal personal insights, and share their stories of discovery while navigating the sea of omega-3 science. Thanks for joining us today. Now, here’s your host, Greg Lindsey.
Welcome back to another episode of The Science and The Story: Behind Omega-3, where we talk with experts from all over the world. Our guest today is considered by many to be the father of omega-3s. his pioneering discovery of marine source omega-3s and human heart health set the trajectory and now 50 years of clinical work with omega-3 fats. He is professor emeritus at the University of Copenhagen. Having been awarded the Living Legend Award by the International Union of nutrition scientists he is truly a living legend. We are thrilled to welcome to the program Dr. Jorn Dyerberg. Welcome Dr. Dyerberg. And thank you so much for being here today. Your groundbreaking work has been an extraordinary contribution to the field of omega-3 research. We’re excited to hear where The Science and The Story: Behind Omega-3s began. Dr. Dyerberg, I recently saw a letter to the editor in nature that paid tribute to your discovery in first publication in 1971, which was 50 years ago this year. The results of your research were published in 1971. So obviously the story started well before then, I probably ask fewer questions than I typically do on this program. Because I want to sit back and hear the story of how and where it began and hear about your journey.
Okay, yeah, you want to hear about my omega-3 fatty acids. Of course, it’s a bit ridiculous for, for me to say my fatty acids, because I was not the guy that first saw them that we have something like long chain omega-3 fatty acids in the nature in our food. But I happen to have the privilege to be one of the two that introduced the concept of long chain polyunsaturated rated fatty acids, enduring nutrition, and their meaning or effects. And it all started way back more than 50 years ago, I was a young doctor on the training as an internist in internal medicine. And I spent years on internal medicine departments and had to supplement with pediatrics, a year and neurology a year and half a year on the Department of clinical chemistry. And I appointed a chief there, Dr. Bob, and he was interested in coronary heart disease and blood limits. And I got interested in that too, and started my thesis work on a new method for determining lipid proteins in blocks. I made a brand new method and it was more bile I basically like proteins was determined by ultracentrifugation, which needed huge technical operators and things like that, but I made a new method that could determine lack of proteins in plasma. And while working on that, suddenly, in May 1969 there was a lead article in our Danish periodical, medical periodical weekly periodical saying that we should look at our code citizens in Greenland, because Greenland was at that time, a part of Denmark now it’s a sort of Commonwealth relationship, but at that time, it was Denmark, and the Inuit’s or the Eskimos living up there had another disease pattern. And among the things that were strange, they wrote in this editorial was that they had a low incidence of coronary heart disease as far as they knew, could find out in spite of living on a diet that was traditionally very high in fat, because they live from seal and seal blubber and fatty fish. And the only thing at that time way back in the 60s 1960s, we knew about risk factors for coronary heart disease was high fat diet will increase your cholesterol and increased cholesterol will increase your risk of getting coronary. So Dr. Bang come to my office and said Dr. Dyerberg at that time, we were not on first names. We were more formal. This new method, we have to go to green and the seventh and the Eskimos and find out how come that they don’t have coronary heart disease to rally senses, we have found the in spite of a high fat diet they’re eating and of course, a young doctor in his late 20s having the opportunity of seeing the opportunity to go to Greenland. Do doc sledging on ice and oh, I mean, that was science. But that was far more the experience. Maybe they caught me. And I said, Of course Let’s try and see if we can collect some money for that. And we managed without the bank’s help to collect, I guess $6,000 or something for three persons to go to Greenland for a month and a half living up there flying up to the main American sunos Ontario airport, and being taken by boat off the coast and landing in
the heart mountain area and settled down and got in contact with the nurses and the doctors up there and managed over a month to travel from one settlement of in which Eskimos to the other, consisting of 5200 persons living on remote islands with their enormous allowance of dogs for sledging and living from efficiency recording the immense ocean surrounding them. And we managed to take blood samples from 130 Inuits or Eskimos at that time we always call them Eskimos today, this word has got some sort of a negative flavor. I don’t know quite why but it is so even if we at that time, said Eskimos, which I think is and you know it worked for people leaving from raw meat or something to enrich, which is a circumpolar determination of the people. And we managed to get one on 20 samples of fasting blood from No, it’s Eskimos living in remote areas of Greenland in their original way. Not from Western diet, but from Greenland, blubber and fish and whatever sharks and whales and whatever you can think of. And we came back home, and we determined their lipids and lipid proteins and published it in 1971. The work that nature later refers to the first one about broad labels and blood plasma lipoproteins in Eskimos. And we found that their blood cholesterol was lower than Danes, but not to that extent that it could explain their nearly nonexistence which what we found out by looking through Jones and see at the hospitals and that the doctors in Reno, not enough to explain the difference. So we actually in this paper, as referred to in nature paper today said that there needs some extra explanations. And then comes that Dr. Ben had an old gas chromatograph that could determine plasma fatty acids. So we this started out on a two year journey of determining the fatty acid profile of the 120 samples from fasting Eskimos that we had to similar to exam the fatty acids not because we had any suspicion that this was give us any explanation but because we felt that we had the obligation to publish it ourselves because no one would ever be able to collect from genuine Eskimo, so no, it’s fasting samples. And so wherever we could examine we should and publish and then we probably That the fatty acid pattern of plasma labels in green and Eskimos in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition A few years later, and along these, there were two we had never seen before. And I went to Hormel Institute and met Ralph Holman and a gentleman at that time, who knew about fatty acid and he said, Jorn these two fatty acids are eicosapentaenoic acid, and docosahexaenoic acid. And I said, say it again. And I learned to express these two strange names, which Today, nearly each housewife, knows because she has to be sure that her baby or kids get enough DHA and her husband get it in DHA, and whatever. But I’ve never heard about before, and when nobody had been interested in them, in respect of human nutrition and rescue, coronary artery disease. And then came some new results coming up in The Lancet, where we published our first paper from a group of Swedish researchers and British researchers’ vein and holding and whatever is saying that in the blood, the Omega-6 fatty acid erikki donek acid, not omega-3, omega-6 Ariki donec, can give rise to prostaglandins that regulates blood clotting. They found some prostaglandins that promoted blood clotting. And they found some prostaglandin that inhibited coffee. And there was a sort of balance from this omega-6 Ariki donek acid that has 20 carbon atoms and four double bonds that regulated blood clotting tendency. And suddenly, we got the idea of what if the AUG six family especially EPA, had another balance between promoters applauding and inhibitors. And we started with that, and I got in contact with Dr. Wayne at welcomes in Britain. And Ray, I remember I was over there for a meeting and I was young student and I called Professor Wayne at his Institute. And finally the Secretary said, Dr. Wayne can give you five minutes. Okay, I said I have to really give him because he was the king of that. And then I started talking. And half an hour later, john said to me your way said absolutely no Hotel in Central. I’m sending a cabin and getting you out to me. And then he sent a cabin and I was taken out to welcome research and begging them. And we started a co work that ended up with a paper in The Lancet showing that from eicosapentaenoic acid, you could get formed in your blood prostaglandins that had another balanced towards clotting tendency in favor of not clotting, and myocardial infarction and coronae is a blood clotting in the coronary arteries. So if that diet high in these two new fatty acids, had an other pattern that favored a decrease in blood clotting tendency, they would have two symptoms of bleeding tendency and a lower incidence of blood clotting, for example, myocardial infarction. So in the next expedition with bang, an eye on our Congress was to green to examine the blood clotting tendency in Eskimos and we message, blood clotting button and bleeding time by making small incisions in their arms on the control condition. And we’re the blotting paper, measuring the seconds it took until the bleeding stops. And then we read the ledger to use well known that green Greenlanders and this scheme also innovates on expedition have a tendency to nosebleed and researchers going up there for half a year and more and doing expedition to the northern parts of Greenland and northern part of Canada. When living on Eskimo diet or no fruit, they experience the same blood clotting lowering bleeding tendency. And we published a paper in Lancet about failure to play the fatty acids and BOD calling tendency in general in which compared to Western eyes, people we of course, choose things and this paper boom opened The whole show up at whiskey hours, the next two or three months, this was the issue that was discussed at the nutrition meetings. And by this long chain omega-3 fatty acids were introduced into human nutrition, research science and also into human food. Because from that on, which took rather many years, it was broadened out so that today we realize that first of all, the long chain omega-3 fatty acids have a lot of biochemical effects in our body, and our essential for healthy life. And a deficiency, which I think we have in the Western world, I think, which we have in the Western world gives rise to deficiency symptoms, which can be or is
higher tendency of coronary heart disease, but also a high inflammatory, in tendency by rheumatism and things like that. And further on to a long series of effects that we have realized over these last, say four years among the three research because the first paper just dealt with plasma levels, and then it came gradually, have now deducted that the long chain omega-3 fatty acids and in particular, DHA doors, eggs, no egg acid, and EPA eicosapentaenoic gas plays a huge amount of roles, like the Omega six derivatives, but modulating and balancing the effects of the maybe over eating of the long chain omega six fatty acids that Western communities tend to live under. Oh, that was 50 years of science and living and experience boiled down to it’s too many words, maybe?
No Dr. Dyerberg, I don’t think it was too many words at all. Although I am curious at that time. How did other medical researchers accept your findings?
Well, they were first radicalized. And then suddenly, that came substance. And then they came clinical trials. The first major one was a case study, which was published in 89, on my birthday, the 13th. of September, finding that giving a group of persons who had had myocardial infarction 7000, I guess it was in dividing them in two groups, giving half of them omega-3 fatty acid capsules, and the other one alibhai capsules, they found a better survival and lower incidence rates of coronary infarction, and a lower death rate and so on. So by adding up this equals gradually acknowledge, now there’s no doubt that long chain omega-3 fatty acids are acknowledged as an essential component of human diet and human tissue, essential in biological functions of merits in our blood and in our body. But, of course, there can be discussions as to whether supplementation will be to this and that effect on health.
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Dr. Dyerberg, I’m eager to hear about your experiences in Greenland. But before that, I’d like to take a moment to clarify something. In the Western world today, there is resistance to recommending fish oil supplements because of the perception they cause bleeding. Now, we just heard part of your discovery was that omega-3s increased bleeding tendency. Could you say more about this really to help our listeners Understand? And do you think people should avoid taking fish oil as nutritional supplements because of this perception?
Yeah, thank you for this question, which is, of course a very essential question, because if we just boil it down, yes, the Inuits at that tide had a bleeding tendency. But we Americans and lead aims have a thrombotic tendency, we are not dying from bleeding when I’m from Thrombosis. When I’m from my car and heart attacks, that’s what we are dying from, that’s a major cause of death in American and Denmark too. And that could be boiled down to more about a person that are exposed to an operation, should he or she stopped taking fish on supplements because of an increased bleeding risk. And that’s a genuine question to raise. And it has been raised in the scientific literature. And I think, in that respect, focus on two works. First, this a paper in circulation, the American Heart Association’s journal medical journal, where they went into the data from a major trial, the overall trial, including nearly 2000 persons, I think it was 1500 or something. And, and they found that if these, there was some patients who before operations, took eight to 10 gram official per day, and also did that after the operation. And there were other who did not take fish oil before operation, and did not take it after the operation. So they compare these two groups whether the official group has more bleeding tendency, more bleeding complications, or has a higher need for transfusion. And they found quite the opposite. The risk of bleeding during Operation best measured on how much blood they lost during operation, which we weigh by weighing the sap serviettes. And the extracts and salting out from the operation view was your law and those on fish oil than those that didn’t take fish oil. And when they measured after the operation procedure, and when the patient was sent on the number of transfusions, these patients got the group that took fish oil, before and during and after operation had a lower intake or had a lower consumption of blood transfusions. So, it was quite the opposite. And they concluded they had a there were no need for stop fish oil intake before and during operations. This has been a basis of a further far larger meter analysis of the this paper here which came in at the same time as studying at 52 reportage studies on bleeding risk during and after operation, compared to groups taking fish oil, or to groups who did not take fish oil before and after ration. And their conclusion was no need for discontinuation of fish oil supplementation prior to or after surgery, because the bleeding risk was equal to or lower than those who did not take fish oils. So even if an intake official does shift the hemostatic balance from thrombotic. Towards non-thrombotic body situations, the increased risk of bleeding due to physical damages in football, or joint operation or during birth has no extra risk on bleeding. Actually, what they found was quite the opposite, which may be has explanations due to the anti-inflammatory effect of fish oil components that dampens the inflammatory component in the runes, and thereby also dampens the bleeding risk. So no need for concern.
Well, thank you for clarifying this important point. And going back to your Greenland experience, could you tell us a little more about the environment and the testing you did on your journeys?
Yeah, yeah, of course. We lived along with the Eskimos and we ate their food I had Rossing river and Rob block. And sometimes we boiled a bit of a kidney and but I lived heavily with it. And sometimes How could you eat that? Because it tastes good. And you should remember, you’re not standing on a sandy beach in Egypt with a dead seal and the flies are Running here, you’re standing in a beach, hopefully in summertime, where the temperature can be around the freezing point. And the cold water is sleeping in on the beach, and he’s cutting up a new pilsener the blood is flowing, and it smells well. And the dogs get a stone in their back if they come to near, and then you cut out some fresh, well smelling thing and live from it. And it tastes well. And they’ve been doing so for centuries. And we did it for a few months, five or six times. And we enjoyed it. And you should remember, a young man having this experience, science is good. But for young doctor being 29 or 32 experience on a dock station shooting scenes and fishing, recreation what whatever is great fun. So besides the great front from the science expeditions were great fun to
how many times did you take that journey to Greenland?
I six times or two months at a time?
So as we sit here in 2021, what would you like the listeners to know today about that research and about nutritional health as a related all the way back to that journey of yours 50 years ago,
the message is that, unfortunately, our Western type diet, especially that one you eat in the United States, is very high in Omega six fatty acids, which is okay, but very low in the long chain omega-3, so the balance has to be shifted a bit or something. And what is essential is that you cannot do that by cutting down on one thing, but only by adding up on the other because you don’t get more of one thing by cutting down on another thing. So this balanced point of view is not my favorite, but there is a balance function between omega six and omega-3, and we should increase the omega-3 side of our fatty acids in our diet. But if I should boil down what my work has really meant, aside from having nutrition to focus on that and the parentheses, we published our first papers in the beginning or 1970s and I started adding up how many that came and I was happy when I said now there are four papers in the literature today that there are 50,000 or something. So it has really meant something but if I should ask an area where I feel really Richardson something is that the deficiency of long chain omega-3 fatty acids in females might give rise to a cerebral I will not say deficiency but in newborns. However it has been shown in rather many studies that pregnancy outcome is improved by adding a decent amount of long chain omega-3 fatty acid to the mother’s diet during pregnancy and during lactation. And if we can add to the brains of newborns, I think we are really dealing with something
that is fantastic and Dr. Dyerberg I’m so appreciative you taking the time today to walk our listeners through that I can’t thank you enough. I know how busy you are. And I know your time is up demand and just being part of the program. I’m really appreciative of that. Okay, thank
you. It’s been pleasure, talking joy. I love telling the story. That’s my life. Thank you and goodbye and have a nice days up here. I go for a glass of red wine relaxing.
Dr. Dyerberg, thank you so very much for being with us today. It’s an honor for me to have the father of omega-3s on this program. And thank you so much listeners for joining us today. And as always be healthy, be well and fight the good fight.
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Any statements on this podcast are the opinion of the scientific guests and author and have not yet been evaluated by the FDA. The information we may provide to you is designed for educational purposes only is not intended to be a substitute for informed medical advice or care. This information should not be used to diagnose, treat or prevent any health issues or conditions without consulting a health care professional. If you are experiencing a health issue or condition we suggest you consult with your healthcare professional