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Belury elected American Society for Nutrition vice president

Janet Kiplinger Ciccone
July 01, 2021

Nutrition professor elected to leadership of largest nutrition society

Martha Belury, the Carol S. Kennedy Endowed Professor of Human Nutrition in the College of Education and Human Ecology, was elected to a multi-year term on the Board of Directors of the American Society for Nutrition. The role is progressive, making her vice president as of July 1, 2021, then president on July 1, 2022, and past president in 2023.

The society, which has more than 7,700 members, is the preeminent and largest professional organization for nutrition research scientists and clinicians around the world. Founded in 1928, the society brings together the top nutrition researchers, medical practitioners, policymakers and industry leaders to advance our knowledge and application of nutrition.

“The fact that Professor Belury was elected by the society’s membership shows the respect held for her world-renowned research,” said Don Pope-Davis, dean of the college. “She has received multiple recognitions over the years, including the society’s Robert H. Herman Memorial Award for Outstanding Research. She is also an elected Fellow of the prestigious American Association for the Advancement of Science.”

Goals for the society, contributions to the nutrition sciences profession

photo of Martha Belury
Martha Belury

Belury, PhD, RDN, has been a member of the American Society for Nutrition since 1987, serving in various leadership positions and on committees. Before being elected vice president, she served as vice president-elect for a year. She also has served the society as chair of its Nutrition Science Council.

“I will advocate for nutrition research, education and policy with government leaders, industry partners, education scholars and policymakers,” Belury said. “As part of the leadership team, I will continue to steward and grow the many strengths that ASN already has in our research publications and membership engagement.”

“By strongly advocating for nutrition in arenas of grant funding, education, translation and food systems with both public and private partners, my long-term goal is to reverse the trend of declining investment and trust in nutrition research and clinical care of patients and underserved populations.”

Belury chairs the human nutrition program in the college’s Department of Human Sciences. Her research seeks to elucidate the mechanisms of bioactive lipids in regulating insulin sensitivity in liver, adipose and muscle; and the role of energy balance in cancer prevention.

She has presented widely and has held continuous funding for her research since 1993. Among her projects is her grant overseeing the multidisciplinary training of pre-doctoral students in foods and nutrition, with a target on obesity to prevent cancer.

Widely published, she has been interviewed many times by the popular media about her research findings. She was recognized in 2012 for having the most cited journal article in the 70-year history of the Nutrition Reviews Journal, published by the International Life Sciences Institute.

Omega-3 fatty acids associated with better muscle strength and slower aging

In a study published in the Journal of Nutrition, Belury, with colleagues and students at The Ohio State University, reported that women who were recently diagnosed with breast cancer and who had higher levels of omega-3 fatty acids in their blood had better muscle strength than women with lower omega-3 in their blood.

The beneficial association of omega-3 fats with better muscle strength is in alignment with other health benefits of omega-3 fats. In another study recently published in the journal Molecular Psychiatry, Belury and colleagues examined the effects of two levels of omega-3 fatty acid supplements compared to placebo on the stress response of biomarkers relevant to cellular aging.

The subjects in this study were healthy adults, ages 40 to 85, but they were sedentary and overweight — characteristics that could lead to a higher risk for accelerated aging.

Working with the principal investigator for the study, Janice Kiecolt-Glaser, professor of psychiatry and director of Ohio State’s Institute of Behavioral Medicine Research, and with Annelise Madison, a doctoral candidate in clinical psychology and first author of the Molecular Psychiatry article, Belury examined the effect of the supplement on telomerase, an enzyme used as a key biological marker linked to evidence of aging in telomeres, which are fragments of DNA that function as protective caps at the end of chromosomes. Telomeres’ tendency to shorten in many types of cells is associated with age-related diseases.

Telomerase rebuilds telomeres and is easier to study because levels of the enzyme would react more quickly to stress than the length of telomeres themselves.

Before and after four months of supplementation, the 138 subjects took a 20-minute test combining a speech and math subtraction task that is known to reliably produce a physiological stress response.

“Intriguingly, even after statistically accounting for other possible explanatory variables, we found that those who took at least 1.25 grams per day of omega-3 evaded the placebo group’s 24% and 26% post-stress drop in telomerase and an anti-inflammatory protein, respectively,” Madison said, “suggesting that omega-3 may boost repair mechanisms during stress recovery.”

“We also found that the higher level of omega-3 supplementation, 2.5 grams per day, helped suppress damage that followed the laboratory-induced stressful event when compared to the placebo group,” Belury said. “Specifically, this dose lowered cortisol and a pro-inflammatory protein by an average of 19% and 33%, respectively.”

“These findings are among the first to show that when stress-related hormones are induced by a stressful event, dietary omega-3 fatty acids may dampen the stress response,” she said. “The blunted response to stress by omega-3 fats could be linked to other health benefits such as slowing biological aging and reducing the risk for chronic diseases.”

Most US adults’ dietary intake of omega-3 is well below recommended values. In the article, Belury and her co-authors wrote, “The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics recommends that the general population consume 500 mg/day of EPA and DHA, but data from a nationally representative sample revealed that the median intake from food and dietary supplements was 18 and 15 mg/day, respectively. For those with preexisting conditions (e.g., mood disorders and cardiovascular disease), the recommendations are even higher.”

“Our findings suggest that apart from other dietary and lifestyle changes, increasing omega-3 fatty acids in the diet may help protect cells from the toll of acute stressors,” Belury said, “thereby facilitating better muscle health and slowing biological aging.”

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