Nestlé will invest approximately CHF10m (€9m) over five years in joint projects to gain a greater understanding of the microbiome and how gut bacteria influence physical and mental health.
Gut bacteria produce a range of metabolites, most notably short chain fatty acids known to be critical to the health of the intestine, and which participate in metabolic signaling.
Speaking to NutraIngredients, Sarah Sheppard, head of communications, research, at the Nestlé Research Center, said the partners were interested in “better characterising the relationship between different fibre types, the types of short chain fatty acids they are fermented into by gut microbiota, and the health effects that ensue”.
Particular interest in mental health
She highlighted mental health and performance as a particularly interesting health outcome because of growing scientific knowledge about bidirectional communication between the gut and brain.
“Several lines of evidence point to the importance of the gut-brain axis, within which the microbes in the gut, through the rich network of nerves found in the gut, communicate with our brain. Hence, as we, in partnership with ICL, explore the characteristics of gut microbiota in various settings, we aim to also look at health outcomes related to mental health and performance,” said Sheppard.
Lifestyle interventions such as physical exercise and increased fibre consumption could be used to improve metabolic health, mental performance and digestive health in older adults.
Such interventions are especially pertinent to older adults, because in contrast to younger adults, they typically consume less fermentable carbohydrates and report lower levels of physical activity, making them more vulnerable to adverse metabolic outcomes that are associated with chronic disease risk, also known as metabolic syndrome.
“Many non-communicable diseases in elderly people, such as obesity, type 2 diabetes, hypertension, cancer and dementia, are linked to insulin resistance and metabolic syndrome. Insulin resistance in the elderly has been linked to change in gut microbiota composition and intestinal permeability, which may result in increased frailty and reduced mental performance,” she explained.
“Furthermore, constipation increases with age and has been associated with changes in microbiota. The age-related changes in the microbiota and non-communicable disease can be largely attributed to modifiable lifestyle characteristics."
Both organisations have signed a ‘Memorandum of Understanding’, and have agreed to jointly engage in pre-clinical and clinical studies.
ICL has strong academic foundations in the fundamental science of metabolic health and, over the past decade, has worked with Nestlé Research on several collaborations that have provided new insights into the effect of bacteria in the gut and obesity.
Professor Gary Frost, chair in dietetics and nutrition at ICL, said the research partnership would provide insights into “how we can tackle some of society’s greatest health challenges”.
“Diet and nutrition underpin many of the current issues our world faces - from rising obesity and diabetes levels, to how to maintain our mental and physical health into old age. This collaboration will enable Imperial to carrry out world-leading research that may help address some of these crucial issues,” he said.