Stable isotopes: their use and safety in human nutrition studies

Abstract

Stable isotopes have been used as tracers in human nutritional studies for many years. A number of isotopes have been used frequently to assess body composition, energy expenditure, protein turnover and metabolic studies in general, such as deuterium (2Hydrogen), 18Oxygen, 13Carbon and 15Nitrogen. Nevertheless, there is still occasional confusion and concern over their safety, which can hinder the appropriate use of these isotopes in human studies. This mini review aims, therefore, to consider the safety of the four stable isotopes mentioned above, and to reiterate and reaffirm their safety once again. It is hoped that these data will be of use to new researchers in the field, as well as those considering the ethical or other implications of using these stable isotopes in nutritional research. Undoubtedly some of the confusion arises as deuterium, especially, is associated with the nuclear industry. However, as their name implies, of course, none of these stable isotopes are radioactive, and no adverse biological or physiological effects have been reported at the very low levels of enrichment that are used in human studies. There are ample data to reaffirm the safety of stable isotopes at the levels used in nutritional research, and unnecessary concerns and/or confusion should not be a block to continued use of these important tracers.

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Acknowledgements

This paper was prepared with support from the International Atomic Energy Agency, Vienna.

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Correspondence to Peter S. W. Davies.

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Davies, P.S.W. Stable isotopes: their use and safety in human nutrition studies. Eur J Clin Nutr 74, 362–365 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41430-020-0580-0

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