American Society For Nutrition

Interview with Dr. Jeff Blumberg, Symposium Chair

Interview with Dr. Jeff Blumberg, Symposium Chair

Excellence in Nutrition Research and Practice
A Conversation with Dr. Jeffrey Blumberg, Chair of the Fifth International Scientific Symposium on Tea & Human Health

The American Society for Nutrition (ASN) recently co-sponsored the Fifth International Scientific Symposium on Tea & Human Health. The plenary session, held September 19 at the U.S. Department of Agriculture, included new and emerging research presented by leading nutrition scientists from around the world.  ASN's fellow co-sponsors included the American Cancer Society, American Institute for Cancer Research, the American College of Nutrition, The Linus Pauling Institute, American Medical Women's Association, Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, and the Tea Council of the USA.  We spoke with ASN member Dr. Jeffrey Blumberg, who chaired the symposium.  Dr. Blumberg serves as a Professor at the Tufts University Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy.  His current research focuses on determining the pharmacokinetics and bioactivity of dietary flavonoids.  He summarized his address to the symposium, some of the research presented, and his experience with ASN.

Interviewer: Can you tell us about your recent experience as Chair of the International Tea Symposium?

Dr. Blumberg: The experience was an extremely positive one.  I would also add that, without the co-sponsorship by ASN and other organizations, it could not have been such a robust and successful event.  ASN in particular was very helpful in many ways, from contributing to the steering committee to helping us identify important topics and speakers. ASN is also working with us to have the proceedings of the symposium published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, likely to appear in late spring/summer.  The symposium is a tremendously interesting one, but as only a few hundred people can attend, publishing the findings in a top tier journal can bring this information to a wide audience of nutrition scientists. It is hard for me to imagine being a chair, or any part of, an international symposium on nutrition without involving ASN, the leading nutrition science organization in the world.

Interviewer: What was your message for the symposium? How did you convey that in your introduction and closing comments?

Dr. Blumberg: The message that I hoped to convey to the symposium, as well as to a wider audience via the proceedings in AJCN, is that, after water, tea is the most popular beverage around the world.  This is our fifth symposium in 21 years because the body of evidence linking tea to health outcomes keeps growing both in depth and in breadth.  I also hope to have the audience recognize tea as a plant food with a unique profile of phytochemicals – and zero calories.  So much of the research on tea today is directed to how its bioactive constituents act to promote health.

Interviewer: Could you give us an overview of some of the research presented?

Dr. Blumberg: We began the symposium by placing tea in the context of dietary flavonoids and related polyphenols as these compounds are the principle bioactives in tea.  The structure of the symposium proceeded then to research on the bioavailability and metabolism of tea flavonoids, on to the molecular and biochemical aspects of their action on signaling pathways and cells, and finally, to health outcomes associated with tea consumption.  To present the current status of tea research in nutrition, we felt it was important to cover the emerging evidence derived from in vitro and animal model experiments, observational studies, and clinical trials that can ultimately lead to dietary recommendations to promote public health. 

There was so much wonderful research presented, including new work that is opening up new avenues for further investigation.  For example, some of the presentations related to how gut microbiota metabolize tea polyphenols and how tea bioactives affect microbiota communities.  We heard reports on new observational studies and a randomized clinical trial on the effect of tea on bone mineral density and bone health, suggesting tea may have a benefit through reducing the risk of osteoporosis and fractures. Other research presented at the symposium covered the impact of tea on cardiovascular disease and cancer as well as cognitive performance.  It is becoming clear that tea can promote a wide range of physiological functions as well as reduce the risk of some chronic diseases.

A full overview of the research can be found at the Tea Council's website.

Interviewer: What were some of the methods suggested to carry tea research into the future?

Dr. Blumberg: There were an enormous number of new ideas presented, ranging from ways to improve flavonoid nutrient databases and dietary assessment tools to novel approaches for functional measures of the effect of tea on the human microbiome and cognitive function.  Together the ideas presented at the symposium are helping to create a roadmap for the future of tea research.

Interviewer: How did you initially get involved in nutrition? Where along that path did you discover ASN and what motivated your decision to join?

Dr. Blumberg: I came to the field through serendipity.  I was doing academic research in pharmacology in Boston when someone mentioned to me that Tufts was opening a new nutrition research center.  I came to check it out, and that's when I met Hamish Munro and Jean Mayer, who dramatically changed my career path.  Shortly thereafter, I discovered ASN at what we now call the Experimental Biology meetings.  I found, very quickly, that ASN provided the opportunity to learn about the most recent nutrition research as well as the opportunity to network with other nutrition scientists from academia, industry, and government.  I also found that ASN was a great place to find the best postdocs to recruit to my lab.  Eventually, I became involved with the Public Interest Committee, which gave me the chance to see how ASN was finding better ways to interact with journalists and to recognize people in the media who were doing a great job.  All of those things were very important to developing my professional career in nutrition, particularly as I came to the field from another discipline.  My graduate students, on the other hand, have the chance to join ASN at a very early stage in their careers and so can avail themselves of all these resources, for which I am very grateful.

November 2012