The Nitrogen Isotope Ratio Is a Biomarker of Yup'ik Traditional Food Intake and Reflects Dietary Seasonality in Segmental Hair Analyses

Kyungcheol Choy, Sarah H. Nash, Courtney Hill, Andrea Bersamin, Scarlett E. Hopkins, Bert B. Boyer, Diane M. O'Brien

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Scopus citations


Background: The nitrogen isotope ratio (NIR) is a promising index of traditional food intake for an Alaska Native (Yup'ik) population, which can be measured in blood and hair. However, the NIR has not been calibrated to high-quality measures of Yup'ik traditional food intake. Objectives: Our primary objective was to examine associations between intakes of Yup'ik traditional food groups, including fish, marine mammals, birds, land mammals, berries, greens, and total traditional foods, and the NIR. In an exploratory analysis, we also examined whether NIR analyzed sequentially along hair could reflect dietary seasonality. Methods: We recruited 68 participants from 2 Yup'ik communities in the Yukon Kuskokwim region of Southwest Alaska (49% female, aged 14-79 y). Participants completed 4 unscheduled 24-h food recalls over the period peak of RBC and hair synthesis preceding a specimen collection visit. The NIR was measured in RBCs (n = 68), a proximal hair section (n = 58), and sequential segments of hair from individuals in the upper 2 quartiles of traditional food intake having hair >6 cm in length, plus 2 low subsistence participants for reference (n = 18). Diet-biomarker associations were assessed using Pearson's correlation and linear regression. Results: Intakes of fish, marine mammals, berries, and greens were significantly associated with the NIR. The strongest dietary association was with total traditional food intake (R2 = 0.62), which indicated that each 1‰ increase in the RBC NIR corresponded to 8% of energy from traditional foods. Hair NIR appeared to fluctuate seasonally in some individuals, peaking in the summertime. Conclusions: Findings support the use of the RBC and hair NIR to assess total traditional food intake in a Yup'ik population. Analyses of sequential hair NIR provided evidence of seasonality in traditional food intake, although seasonal variations were modest relative to interindividual variation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1960-1966
Number of pages7
JournalJournal of Nutrition
Issue number11
StatePublished - Nov 1 2019


  • biomarker evaluation
  • circumpolar health
  • dietary seasonality
  • nitrogen stable isotope ratio
  • traditional food

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Medicine (miscellaneous)
  • Nutrition and Dietetics


Dive into the research topics of 'The Nitrogen Isotope Ratio Is a Biomarker of Yup'ik Traditional Food Intake and Reflects Dietary Seasonality in Segmental Hair Analyses'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this