Scientists at the University of Southampton in the UK have received funding to study whether genes can influence the benefits gained by some people from dietary antioxidants.
The team is hoping to find out why some people benefit more than others from the effects of fruit and vegetables in battling conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis, inflammatory bowel disease, asthma and heart disease.
It is already known that a diet rich in fruit, vegetables, nuts and tea provides plenty of antioxidants such as vitamins E and C, beta-carotene and polyphenols. These help tackle an excess of free radicals and oxidants produced to help our immune system kill harmful microbes which try to invade our systems every day. The production of too many free radicals can end up damaging our bodies and needs to be controlled.
This knowledge has led the UK government to recommended that people eat five helpings of fruit and vegetables each day. However, more work needs to be done to discover if genetic factors are important too.
Professor Bob Grimble is leading a team of scientists and clinicians from the Institute of Human Nutrition at the University of Southampton, the city's University Hospitals Trust and the company Sciona to investigate how our genes interact with antioxidants in our diet in changing inflammation.
The group has won a £440,000 LINK award from the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council and Sciona, and hopes to start work early in 2003.
Professor Grimble said: "Our genes influence the strength of our inflammatory response. But it is not yet known whether some people benefit more than others from an increase in dietary antioxidants."
The two-year study will involve 400 volunteers, both healthy middle-aged men and patients with the early signs of rheumatoid arthritis.