Advances in natural stable isotope ratio analysis of human hair to determine nutritional and metabolic status

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Purpose of reviewWe review the literature on the use of stable isotope ratios at natural abundance to reveal information about dietary habits and specific nutrient intakes in human hair protein (keratin) and amino acids. In particular, we examine whether hair isotopic compositions can be used as unbiased biomarkers to provide information about nutritional status, metabolism, and diseases.Recent findingsAlthough the majority of research on the stable isotope ratio analysis of hair has focused on bulk protein, methods have been recently employed to examine amino acid-specific isotope ratios using gas chromatography or liquid chromatography coupled to an isotope ratio mass spectrometer. The isotopic measurement of amino acids has the potential to answer research questions on amino acid nutrition, metabolism, and disease processes and can contribute to a better understanding of the variations in bulk protein isotope ratio values. First results suggest that stable isotope ratios are promising as unbiased nutritional biomarkers in epidemiological research. However, variations in stable isotope ratios of human hair are also influenced by nutrition-dependent nitrogen balance, and more controlled clinical research is needed to examine these effects in human hair.SummaryStable isotope ratio analysis at natural abundance in human hair protein offers a noninvasive method to reveal information about long-term nutritional exposure to specific nutrients, nutritional habits, and in the diagnostics of diseases leading to nutritional stress and impaired nitrogen balance.

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