The fundamental demographic change will pose enormous challenges to public health and healthcare systems. In 2020, one person out of 5 will be over 65; 3 out of 5 people will die from a chronic disease; 7 % of the world’s adult population will live with diabetes; and 20 % will be overweight or obese. Consequently, healthcare systems will have to adapt to the needs of the patients and implement actions to prevent and treat chronic diseases and associated morbidities such as cardiovascular diseases. Rising healthcare costs are one of the major future problems facing society. Already today 30 % of the costs are caused by diet-related diseases in Germany and recent calculations predict that the world will spend $ 5 to 10 trillion on healthcare in 2020.
Nutrition and health were major topics at the Congress ‘Forum Life Science’ comprising novel results in nutritional science such as olfaction or intestinal metagenomics, concepts for health ingredients as well as the opportunities provided by personalised nutrition.
Nutrition is closely linked to olfaction. Food odorants rated as pleasant are reported to acquire the ability to stimulate appetite and are supposed to be a major factor in so-called short-term over-eating. Even nanomolar concentrations of olfaction-stimulating molecules can have biological functions as recently shown by a research group from the Technische Universität München. To understand food preferences and foodrelated hedonic influences, the molecular mechanisms of olfactory food perception are being investigated. Amazingly, about 2-3 % of all human genes code for olfactory receptors which belong to the family of G protein-coupled receptors. The combinatorial code of odorant perception at receptor level is extensive and the identification of key food odorants is a challenge. Investigating the biological activity by gas chromatography allowed the identification of 200 key food odorants out of 15,000 volatile compounds. This knowledge can be used to understand how food-borne chemical signatures are translated into receptor activation patterns and finally into decision-making signals. Future research requires an integrative approach of different scientific disciplines, including experimental psychology, to open new routes to product innovation and translate this knowledge into personalised science-based nutrition.
The human intestinal microbiome – the entity of all microorganisms in the gut – has a strong impact on health presumably affecting diseases such as obesity, diabetes and autoimmune disorders. With 1014 cells the human body contains over 10 times more microbial cells than human cells. This implies that every individual carries their personal composition of microorganisms in the gut. Novel sequencing technologies and quantitative metagenomics enable scientists to investigate the role of the intestinal microbiome. Three different networks of microbes (enterotypes) could be identified, explained Prof Willem de Vos from Wageningen and Helsinki University. Interestingly, while antibiotics have a strong influence on microorganisms, daily diet and probiotics only have a marginal effect. However, diet with resistant starch or very low-calorie diets proved to promote specific gut bacteria. Also, a dietary change induces change in the intestinal flora. The ability to modulate the microbiota can be much more effective than an antibiotic regimen, as shown by recent results in treatment of recurrent Clostridium infections through fecal transplantation. Further characterisation and analysis of the composition of the human microbiome will provide information about the genetic potential to develop synthetic microbiomes as next generation therapies. Future applications are the treatment of bacterial infections or metabolic syndrome.
Recent studies showed that fat-soluble Vitamin D has a great impact on human health. It is naturally produced when the skin is exposed to sunlight, is present in very few foods and available as dietary supplement. Vitamin D is needed for calcium absorption and bone mineralisation. An inadequate vitamin D status may be a risk factor for a variety of diseases, including cardiovascular diseases, autoimmune diseases, osteoporosis and specific types of cancer.
Surprisingly, vitamin D deficiency is an issue in both the industralised and developing world, with gaps in all population groups and a higher deficiency in women. A vitamin D blood level of more than 75 nmol/l would be desirable but this is achieved by only 12 % of the population; in Germany average levels are below 50 nmol/l. The reason for such low vitamin status in Western populations may include changes in lifestyle, an increase in urbanisation and generally limited time spent outdoors.
Sufficient supply with specific micronutrients also depends on their bioavailability. The bioavailability of a substance is a measure for the amount which is found in the bloodstream after absoprtion. Understanding absorption, distribution, metabolism and excretion (ADME) of a nutrient is important for the development of functional food products.
Human milk is the ideal nutrition for infants and is regarded as ‘gold standard’ in terms of composition and biological functions. For the development of infant formulas, cow milk is used as raw material. The milk is humanised in terms of composition and functionality by adding e. g. protein-lactoferrin, unsaturated fatty acids and oligosaccharides. Currently, galacto-oligosaccharides (GOS) are the best alternative to mimic human milk oligosaccharides (HMOs). Between 150 and 200 different HMO structures have been identified so far. GOS are gaining more and more interest as important functional components for application in infant formulas because they have similar effects as HMOs. These include enhanced mineral absorption, reduced risk of infections by immune-modulating effects and stimulation of growth of Bifidobacteria and Lactobacilli in the gut.
‘Consumers expect fat and
Designing health-beneficial food remains a challenge for food producers due to the unpleasant characteristics of added ingredients. Amino acids and minerals are examples for bitter-tasting ingredients and have an impact on sensory perception and texture. The complexity of such bitter ingredients and odorants requires tailor-made masking solutions in order to create an overall balanced product with a high level of consumer acceptance. Bitter masking is especially complicated as the majority of bitter compounds activate more than one bitter receptor.
To identify novel food ingredients and taste modulators, B.R.A.I.N. developed a platform technology based on human taste cells. In contrast to existing recombinant cell assays, isolated human taste cells from lingual epithelium biopsy samples were immortalised to develop different screen lines. Characterisation of the established cell line by gene expression profiling proved that the cells are bitter taste cells expressing 15 of 25 known receptors. In addition, the cells also carry receptors for salicin, fatty acids, menthol and the satiety hormone oxytocin. The technology will be used to establish screenable cell lines for all basic taste qualities to enable the discovery of novel food ingredients which may help to reduce salt, sugar or act as bittermaskers.
Reducing fat and carbohydrates affects not only taste and texture but also sensory features. New processes such as fat fractionation, whey protein micro-particulation and multi-component matrix texturisation allow production of low-fat food without compromise on texture and taste. Milk fat fractionation is one approach in dairy application to reduce fat without loss of flavour. Advances in whey protein and casein technologies enable fat-like texture and sensory perceptions. Microbial exopolysaccharides are texture optimisation tools to stabilise a complex food matrix in the creaming reaction.
Metabolism and nutritional requirements change throughout our life time. The elderly need a different supply of micronutrients and vitamins than infants and nutritional recommendations are different for active athletes and people suffering from a chronic disease. Nestlé’s approach to face these individual differences in nutritional requirements is based on the extension of nutrition science beyond public health towards personalised and sustainable nutrition focussing on health and wellness. Science-based nutritional solutions are expected to deliver personalised health care for people with medical conditions. The hallmarks of their three-tier model are: improving nutritional values by fortifying food products targeted to the right nutritional and health targets and to responsive populations. It also includes bio-fortification to increase nutrient density. Secondly, applying nutrigenomics will help us to understand the impact of diet on the genetic regulatory networks governing health and to age in a healthy way. Finally, individual nutritional interventions allow improving health through prevention and maybe through the curative impact of nutrition on disease. To elucidate the underlying mechanisms a holistic approach is required regarding genetics and genomics, molecular biomarkers, metabonomics, natural products and microbiome, preclinical models and clinical studies. The strategy aims to develop a scientific platform integrating all relevant fields of systems biology including diagnostics and clinical translation as well as fortification and supplementation to elevate and expand the role of nutrition. At the newly founded Nestlé Institute of Health Science, this integrated systems biology approach sets the frame for research to deliver solutions for personalised nutrition. Regarding diabetes, research efforts exist to understand the molecular mechanisms underlying the disease and to dissect the signalling network that controls blood sugar levels. The objective is to identify relevant targets which provide a scientific basis on which to improve metabolic health and glycemic control of type 2 diabetes.
‘Activity monitoring helps
One possibility to bridge the gap between food and health is seen in personalised nutrition approaches. Offering more than just dietary advice personalised nutrition integrates scientific, business and consumer aspects to deliver sustainable benefits. First businesses have already developed personalised nutrition offerings requesting dietary intake data and self-reported parameters offering personal diet and activity advice. Currently, more than 60 % are internet-based business types. For example Viocare provides a service platform for personalised assessment, planning, monitoring, and modification of dietary and exercise behaviours for corporate employees. As a member of the EU project ‘Food4Me’, Dr Jo Goossens, shiftN, explores the barriers and opportunities of personalised nutrition to develop novel business concepts.
The latest research results are going to be translated into novel customised product solutions such as prophylactic therapy for specific target groups or electronic equipment for monitoring nutrition and health status. In today’s digitised world, novel approaches are being developed in order to monitor nutrition, physical activity and individual health. Philips ‘DirectLife’ is based on an electronic device – the so-called activity monitor – and tracks all body movements, calculating the energy required. After the assessment period, a personalised website allows comparison with the activity level recommended by organisations such as the World Health Organisation, to connect with other Direct Life users and to adapt individual training with a personal coach.