You may have already met Emily Ho at a college seminar, an OSU alumni event, Classes Without Quizzes, or maybe even the local senior center. “I try to say ‘yes’ when I’m invited to talk about nutrition and the impact it has on our overall health,” says Emily, associate professor of nutrition and a member of the Linus Pauling Institute at OSU. “Most people are getting their information from newspapers, magazines, and the Internet. A lot of it is conflicting; some is simply not accurate.”
Emily believes part of her role as a researcher is to disseminate the results of high-quality nutrition research in a timely way. “People are realizing the huge impact of diet on health, so solid information about nutrition is essential.”
Emily grew up in Toronto, 10 minutes from her grandparents, and talks fondly about sharing a papaya with her grandmother, Heung Ying, nearly every morning. “She would tell me to get outside, be active, eat a variety of things — fruits, vegetables, grains. Isn’t it interesting,” she ponders, “that we spend billions on cancer and cardiovascular research, and it still keeps coming back to those basics?”
Emily’s research focuses on the relationship between cancer and diet and the role of micronutrients in the disease, particularly in the development of prostate cancer. “Not all cancers have a strong dietary component,” says Emily, “but prostate, breast, and colon cancers seem to respond to diet.” She’s discovered an important link between prostate cancer and zinc, a mineral that every cell in our body requires but one that 50 percent of men over 65 not get enough of. “The prostate contains the highest concentration of zinc of all the soft tissues in the body, and as prostate cancer develops, zinc levels decrease. And if zinc is taken away from a cell, it can cause shifts that damage the DNA, which can lead to cancer.”
Men should get at least 11 mg of zinc in their diet — not too much or too little. Since there’s not a good biomarker for zinc deficiency, Emily suggests eating protein-rich foods like oysters, seafood, lean beef, and chicken. Vegetarians can be at risk for zinc deficiency so should take a multimineral supplement.