Unilever inks deal with Microba to explore the sleep-gut microbiome link

By Will Chu

- Last updated on GMT

Unilever inks deal with Microba to explore the sleep-gut microbiome link

Related tags Unilever Microba Gut microbiome Sleep

UK food giants Unilever has ramped up its interest in the gut microbiome in a new partnership with Microba Life Sciences looking at the link between gut health and sleep quality.

As part of the agreement, the two firms will gather data looking at gut bacteria’s role in promoting sleep quality, circadian rhythm regulation and the production of substances that aid in encouraging sleep.

The research will use Microba’s Genome Database, a collection of microbial genomes, continually updated with new genomes to improve species identification from samples allowing the formation of functional profiles and metabolic-pathway analysis.

“We look forward to working with Unilever to understand more about the way that diet, lifestyle and gut bacteria influences sleep habits and quality of rest,”​ says Dr Kylie Ellis, Microba’s Research Manager.

“The project will advance research in the links between the gut microbiome and human physiology for the promotion of sleep and other gut-brain axis functions.”

The project taps into the gut’s increasingly strong association with sleep quality as a body of research points to microorganisms and circadian genes interacting with each other.

Further evidence has emerged on the link between gut microbiome and inflammation and sleep loss, circadian misalignment, affective disorders, and metabolic disease.

Future Food initiative

For Unilever, the partnership’s findings will play neatly into the its Future Food ambitions, where the aim is to encourage people to adopt healthier diets with the firm intending to double the number of products delivering positive nutrition globally, by 2025.

These products will include ‘impactful’ amounts of micronutrients like vitamins, zinc, iron and iodine as well as vegetables, fruits and proteins.

As evidence of this commitment, Unilever recently announced a partnership with biotech start-up Algenuity explore the potential microalgae has as a future food for its plant-based portfolio with a view to bringing microalgae-based foods to the market.

Algenuity, a UK-based firm formed in 2009, contributed its Chlorella Colours palette designed to reduce the chlorophyll content of microalgae that causes the bitter taste and smell, while still retaining its natural nutrient content.

Unilever’s gut-friendly approach was further underlined in a recent interview​, where André Pots, Director Product and Process Science Foods & Refreshment at Unilever said the expansion of their portfolio of products would highlight functional properties.

“The next generation products that we're looking at, such as oat protein, lentil, faba beans, chick peas, potato, these things we're looking at for the functional properties in terms of binding, juiciness and bite. also to avoid the off notes often associated with pea or soy,"​ he said.

Food, sleep and the gut

Food remains the last pillar that links the gut microbiome and sleep with its nutritional quality, quantity and timing crucial in contributing to a restful night’s rest.

Studies have pointed to chronic sleep fragmentation as linked to increased food intake and reversible changes in the composition of the gut microbiome in mice.

Likewise, gut phyla such as Bacteroidetes and Firmicutes were positively correlated with sleep efficiency, while only the Bacteroidetes was negatively correlated with sleep fragmentation.

These two phyla have been associated with sleep quality in humans with growing evidence that these members both influence circadian rhythm and food intake, both of which impact sleep quality.

Sleep as a restorative and repair process has recently come under the spotlight as the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that a third of adults failed to get the recommended seven hours back in 2016.

The organisation has deemed the issue so serious as to dub insufficient sleep a 'public health problem', a declaration backed up by additional data that quantifies the economic costs of insufficient sleep.

Data from The RAND Corporation identified Germany as sustaining economic losses of up to €50.4bn ($60bn), 1.56% of its GDP and the UK, up to€42bn ($50bn), 1.86% of its GDP due to lack of sleep.

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