How do we define a healthy gut?

Riddet Institute scientists within the High-Value Nutrition National Science Challenge Research Programme
Tuesday 16th April 2019

People think about their gut as a long tube that food goes through and some nutrients are absorbed but it’s an incredibly complex system,” says Professor Nicole Roy, Riddet Institute Adjunct Professor and Principal Scientist at AgResearch. Professor Roy has talked to the Listener about her research in an article called “Mapping the second brain” discussing the most up to date research on the human microbiome in the world.

Professor Roy’s work forms part of an area of food and diet research investigating the human microbiome, the very complex system of microbes in the gut, that metabolise some of your food as you eat and produce chemical by-products that supply and affect your body in different ways, both beneficially and detrimentally. The Listener has featured the leaders in this field in an 8-page article in the 25th March edition of the magazine.

Projects around the world in this research are looking at genetic results can be utilised to individualise diet advice, how each individual metabolises different foods and the chemical by products that result in different people. Greater diversity in your diet, leads to greater diversity in your gut microbiome, an accepted conclusion in a variety of studies that the article discusses. Less diversity is problematic and can lead to more proclivity of non-communicable diseases such as diabetes or obesity. Therefore, the wide-ranging impact of this research is clear for the future of a society where many people struggle with diet related disorders and disease – whether that be over consumption or malnourishment.

In New Zealand, the research is within the High-Value Nutrition (HVN) National Challenge: Ko Ngā Kai Whai Painga– a collaboration between AgResearch, University of Otago, Christchurch, the Riddet Institute, Massey University, Plant & Food Research and the University of Auckland. High-Value Nutrition is the New Zealand National Science Challenge with the mission to grow the science excellence and knowledge New Zealand needs to create and deliver food to the world that people choose to stay healthy and well.

The section of the High Value Nutrition programme led by Professor Roy, is examining foods, their breakdown in the gut, which foods to select to improve digestive health gut comfort and function and subsequently affect overall health outcomes of consumers who have functional gut disorders. Many Riddet Institute researchers and its partner organisations take part in this research; from Drs Wayne Young and Karl Fraser who are, respectively, analysing the DNA of the gut bacteria and blood metabolites of individuals with functional gut disorders and comparing to that of healthy people, to Dr Matthew Barnett who is examining bacteria’s role in lactose or dairy intolerance.

These researchers, with Caterina Carco and Shanalee James, PhD Fellows of the Riddet Institute, have presented their science at the Foodomics 2019 conference (9th-11th April), sponsored by New Zealand Trade and Enterprise and Zespri Kiwifruit. The Riddet Institute team joined other researchers and businesses taking premium foods for health and wellbeing to the world and used the conference to collaborate, learn about the latest research opportunities, and network.