Introducing nutrikinetics: A new way of performing nutrition research
The principle is relatively simple; by combining different cutting edge technologies and methodologies – including metabolomics and new developments in bio-statistical modelling – researchers could soon be able to get a much more complete overview of what actually happens to circulating metabolites and biomarkers when a food or supplements are consumed, says John van Duynhoven of Unilever R&D in The Netherlands.
“The main relevance of this technology is that it can offer a better understanding of how consumers differ with respect to dietary exposure,” said van Duynhoven – who recently led research published in Trends in Food Science & Technology outlining the concept of the new methodology.
“Nutrikinetics was born out of the need to understand the bioactivity of dietary ingredients and the diet in general,” van Duynhoven told NutraIngredients
van Duynhoven, who is also a professor at Wageningen University, explained that in order to understand how the foods we eat affect us fully, we have to completely known and understand how dietary ingredients become bio-available in the body. He added that though it is easy to monitor, and understand the foods and compounds we consume, getting a grip on how much of this is actually going into circulation “is quite complex.”
“Typically we do not ingest single molecules, but instead complex mixtures, and so then to observe what circulates, you will [also] see lots of markers from our background diet,” said the Unilever expert.
“The key to observing molecules in our body is to do kinetic measurements,” he revealed – noting that by repeating a dynamic measurement over several hours after consuming dietary ingredients, researchers can gain a more accurate picture of the levels and profiles of metabolites in circulation.
The idea for the nutrikinetic model came about when van Duynhoven and his colleagues were performing an intervention study. In that study, the team decided to look at ‘snapshot measurements’ of biomarker levels in urine and plasma circulation.
“But, it is very difficult to make any conclusions from these snapshot measurements,” said van Duynhoven.
“That’s basically why we need to do kinetic measures,” he said – explaining that the new methodology takes repeated measurements upon digestion.
“In our view, this is the only meaningful way to come up with a conclusion of what has been in circulation.”
The principle of using dynamic measurements in such a way is not new in itself, explained van Duynhoven, noting it has been used as a basis for drugs trials methodologies for many years.
“This is not a novel concept,” he said. “In the pharmaceutical world there is pharmacokinetics ... [but] the pharmacokinetic approach is quite old, and is not sufficient for some of the complexities related to nutrition research.”
He explained that one of the main differences between the two methods is that nutrikinetics uses a metabolomic approach to capture data – rather than focusing on measuring a few key biomarkers.
“Typically [in drug research] you are looking at one compound, and only a few metabolites or markers, but in nutrition that doesn’t work.”
“Nutrikinetics is the integration of a group of novel technologies in order to overcome the current problems with the assessment of dietary exposure studies,” said van Duynhoven, adding that by combining technologies such as metabolomics and improved bio-statistical models, the team have found a solutions to overcome some of the main problems with current methodologies.
“By integrating these technologies, we came up with some novel insights,” he confirmed.
van Duynhoven observed that three main factors complicate nutrition research: an individual variations in physiological make up (such as differences in microbiota), a high complexity of ingredients being tested, and the effects of the background diet.
In particular, he said he said there are problems when gut bacteria play a role in breaking down the food.
“For a lot of phytochemicals and ingredients of plant origin, this is turning out to be a major mechanism or how they end up in circulation ... and it turns out that because we have very different microbiota in our body, this also means that the way we break down these phytochemicals for circulation can be very different from one individual to another,” he explained.
“Typically when microbiota is involved we measure up to ten or 12 hours, because that’s how long the body takes to do all the bioconversions,” said the Unilever expert.
“That’s the key of nutrikinetics,” said van Duynhoven. “To take this kinetic signature of dietary intake, which turns out give much more characteristics than taking a snapshot measurement.”
“The fact it is a dynamic measurement is the key,” he reiterated.
Looking to the future
van Duynhoven confirmed to NutraIngredients that the nutrikinetic approach forms part of Unilever’s research program, adding that the company had ongoing research which would try to use the principle in the future.
He said the methods could potentially lead to breakthroughs in predicting why certain consumers segments may benefit more from nutritional products than others, “particularly in areas where the gut microbiota come into play.”
The expert added that the methods could also directly incorporate research published last year, that suggested consumers have different types of gut microflora (known as enterotypes).
“We are now recognising that people have different gut microbial compositions,” he said.
“So the logical next step would be to link this with nutrikinetics and see whether these enterotypes have different nutrikinetic signatures, and whether that explains why some people benefit more from dietary exposures than others.”
van Duynhoven said future research in such areas could help to support health claims, by providing a better research tool to perform studies. He added that the principle had particular potential in helping to provide a research basis for future health claims aimed at specific consumer groups.