My “Meet the Scientist” series brings you conversations with NCEH/ATSDR scientists that aim to give you a sense of the talented people who are working to keep you safe and secure from those things in the environment that threaten our nation’s health.
By now, most of us have heard about the importance of folate in our diets. Folate belongs to the group of water-soluble B vitamins that occur naturally in food. Leafy green vegetables (such as spinach and turnip greens), fruits (such as citrus fruits and juices), and dried beans and peas are all natural sources of folate. Folate is also important for the neural tube development of the fetus during pregnancy. I sat down to talk with Dr. Christine Pfeiffer, the lead nutritionist who continues to conduct folate research in the Division of Laboratory Sciences.
Christine Pfeiffer was born in Romania. When she was 13, she and her family moved to Karlsruhe, Germany. We talked about how she attended the Technical University of Karlsruhe to earn the PhD in food chemistry with a focus on analytical chemistry techniques and on food law. She came to the U.S. in 1994 to complete her post-doctorate work at the University of Florida in Gainesville, with a focus on folate. Shortly thereafter, Christine learned CDC was looking for a scientist with a folate background. Given her love of applied research that covers a broad spectrum of natural sciences, and a desire to continue her work with folate, Christine was a perfect fit for the position! She has been with CDC since 1996.
What’s Most Interesting about Her Work?
“Because of the reach of my work,” explains Christine, “I get the chance to interact with people both within and outside CDC, work on papers and reports, and coordinate many projects.”
She also told me that a typical work day could cover a wide range of activities such as reviewing laboratory data, providing advice on adding nutritional biomarkers into a new study, planning activities to improve measurements of biomarkers, or interviewing potential job applicants. “I am fortunate to work with a very talented and energetic group of people who really want to move things forward and put in their best effort every day,” she says.
I was interested in knowing more specifics about her current work projects, because for the past two years, Christine has been heavily involved with the development and production of CDC’s Second Nutrition Report. Using data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), the report assesses the nutrition status of the U.S. population based on biomarkers measured in blood and urine and whether the nutrition status has changed over the eight-year period between 1999–2006.
“We present nutrition biomarker data by age, gender, and race/ethnicity to see whether certain population subgroups have poorer nutrition status than other groups” said Christine. “For example, the report investigates whether the general population and specific groups have adequate status of
- vitamins such as folate (important for the neural tube development of the fetus during pregnancy) and vitamin D (essential for good bone health), and
- trace elements such as iron (important to avoid anemia) and iodine (important for the brain development of the fetus during pregnancy).”
Did You Know…
Fatty acids are the building blocks of fats. Saturated fatty acids are commonly found in animal fat, including dairy products. Olive, canola, and safflower oils are rich in monounsaturated fatty acids. For example, good sources of polyunsaturated fatty acids include soybeans, corn, cottonseed oils, and fatty fish.
Want to lower your risk of heart disease? Then try limiting your dietary intake of saturated fatty acids to no more than 10% of caloric intake and replacing them with mono- or polyunsaturated.
The report also investigates whether blood levels of unhealthy saturated fatty acids and heart-healthy polyunsaturated fatty acids differ among population groups. Christine also mentioned that “the Nutrition Report showcases the work our lab does, including our high-quality, state-of-the-art methods.”
CDC plans to release the Second Nutrition Report this spring.
Why Her Work is Rewarding
I could tell that Christine is excited about her work, but I wanted to know why she found it rewarding. “Much work and thought goes into accurately assessing and then improving the health of the U.S. population” said Christine. “Knowing that nutrition status is an important determinant of health, it is a wonderful opportunity to be able to provide critical information so that public health scientists can develop better recommendations for dietary intake and personal lifestyle. The data we produce and the research we conduct is one piece of the puzzle, and only when all pieces are together, can the puzzle be solved.”