Stable Isotopes: Their Use and Safety in Human Nutrition Studies

European Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 2020 Mar; 74(3):362-365. doi: 10.1038/s41430-020-0580-0.
Davies P.


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.

Information NutriBib

Reference work for leading, current and selected literature in the field of clinical nutrition

Publications on clinical nutrition have grown steadily in recent years and the scientific evidence has been improved by numerous observational as well as intervention studies. Various umbrella organisations, such as the Swiss Society for Clinical Nutrition (GESKES), the German Society for Nutritional Medicine (DGEM) or the European Society for Clinical Nutrition and Metabolism (ESPEN) publish guidelines on nutrition in various clinical situations at regular intervals. Thus, a large amount of literature is available for evidence-based nutritional medicine.

The NutriBib aims to filter out authoritative publications in the various fields of nutritional medicine and thus to provide an overview of the abundance of literature. A large number of experienced nutrition experts contributed to the selection of relevant sources and allow a broadly based selection. Nevertheless, the literature selection cannot be considered exhaustive. Specific literature can be found by entering search words (using the magnifying glass at the top right) or by searching the table of contents.

Is important literature still missing? We would be very pleased to hear from you:

List of abbreviations

DGEM German Society for Nutritional Medicine (German Deutsche Gesellschaft für Ernährungsmedizin)
GESKES  Swiss Society for Clinical Nutrition (German Gesellschaft für klinische Ernährung der Schweiz) 
ESPEN European Society of Clinicl Nutrition and Metabolism