Newsletter: December 4, 2018

Researched and written weekly by the editorial team of Food Technology magazine, the IFTNEXT Newsletter explores what are, arguably, the next big things in the science of food through original reporting of scientific breakthroughs, leading-edge technology, novel food components, and transdisciplinary R&D.

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Brain in InflammationDietary fiber may prevent brain inflammation during aging
We all know that fiber is good for us, and now University of Illinois (U of I) researchers have added a new reason to consume it, perhaps particularly for older individuals. A study published recently in the journal Frontiers in Immunology that brought together scientists from the university’s neuroscience, nutrition, animal sciences, and kinesiology departments found that dietary fiber helps to reduce damaging brain inflammation.

Brain inflammation occurs as mammals age, prompting immune cells called microglia to become chronically inflamed and causing them to produce chemicals known to negatively affect cognitive skills and motor function, including interleukin-1β, which has been linked to Alzheimer’s disease. Dietary fiber may help give brain health a boost because when it is digested in the gut, it produces butyrate, a short-chain fatty acid that has been shown to have anti-inflammatory properties on microglia and to improve memory in mice when it is administered in drug form, says Rodney Johnson, professor and head of the Dept. of Animal Sciences at the U of I and a corresponding author of the study.

The U of I scientists fed low- and high-fiber diets to groups of young and old mice and then measured the levels of butyrate and other short-chain fatty acids in their blood as well as inflammatory chemicals in the gut. One of the interesting things their study showed was the difference in effect fiber consumption had on young and old mice. The high-fiber diet elevated butyrate and other short-chain fatty acids in the blood for both groups. But the low-fiber diet produced intestinal inflammation only in the old mice, not the young ones. “It clearly highlights the vulnerability of being old,” says Johnson. There was good news, however, when the old mice were fed a high-fiber diet: Their levels of intestinal inflammation were dramatically reduced—to the point where there was no difference in inflammation levels between the old and the young mice.

The National Institute of Health’s National Institute on Aging has awarded a grant of nearly $2 million toward continuing the research. This phase will include attempting to understand the specific mechanisms of the gut-brain axis and examining the effects of high-fiber diets on cognition and behavior.

Johnson believes that the study in mice has applications for humans. “We know that older adults consume 40% less fiber than is recommended,” he says. “Not getting enough fiber could have negative consequences for things you don’t even think about, such as connections to brain health and inflammation in general.”

 

Tooth Sensor
Photo courtesy of Tufts University
Tooth sensors monitor food consumption
NHANES data and nutrition-based clinical research are often hampered by having to rely on the accuracy of study participants’ memory of their daily food intake. A new wearable technology developed by researchers at Tufts University could change that.

Researchers at the Tufts University School of Engineering have developed small sensors that use RFID to communicate wirelessly with a mobile device. When mounted directly on a tooth, these miniature sensors can collect and transmit information on the intake of salt, sugar, and alcohol. Each sensor has three layers: two outer layers that are square-shaped gold rings and a center bioresponsive layer for detecting nutrients or chemicals.

In designing the tooth-mounted sensors, the engineers at Tufts wanted to avoid the problems with other wearable technologies, which require the use of mouth guards, wiring, and frequent replacements due to sensors petering out. In the future, the tooth-mounted sensors could be adapted to detect and record a wider range of nutrients, chemicals, and physiological states. In addition, diabetics could use the sensors to monitor their glucose level. However, further research must occur before the technology will be an appropriate substitute for food diaries.

 

Whole GrainsHow do whole grain diets benefit health?
A diet rich in whole grains has long been associated with a reduced risk of chronic diseases such as type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disorders. Until recently, however, the molecular mechanisms of such a diet have not been well understood. But researchers at the University of Eastern Finland, using metabolomics analysis, have shed new light on the cellular effects of a whole-grain–rich diet, and their findings may lead to the development of healthier foods.

Principal investigator Kati Hanhineva has been researching whole grains and their link to health for several years. The goal of her recent study, she says, was to find “molecular-level explanations for the observed health beneficial effect of whole grains, and thereafter be able to promote and increase consumption of whole grain products.” She and her team decided to use metabolomics technology in their investigation “because it is the most suitable and efficient technology to asses research questions involving phytochemicals (plant-made compounds, the suspects behind the health effects),” she explains.

The researchers analyzed sample sets from both human and animal studies. “We found a group of novel compounds that were increased both in human plasma, as well as [in] mouse tissues after a diet rich in whole grains/bran,” says Hanhineva. Some of the compounds, including betaine compounds such as pipecolic acid betaine, were associated with improved glucose metabolism. In a follow-up in vitro trial, one of the elevated compounds, 5-aminovaleric acid betaine, was shown to have an effect similar to a drug used to treat some heart diseases.

Hanhineva’s study is the first to show the link between whole grain consumption and betaine compounds, and to demonstrate potential bioactivity behind the phytochemicals present in whole grains. Although it helps to clarify the association between whole grains and improved glucose metabolism, the study is only a starting point. “We are still far away from fully understanding the reasons why whole grain consumption is beneficial,” says Hanhineva. “Our next attempt is to explore the role of gut microbiota in the association between whole grain consumption and good health.”


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