Nutrition and Disease

The societal mission of the chair group Nutrition and Disease within the Division of Human Nutrition and Health is ‘to decrease the risk of (chronic) disease and improve the health of those with a disease through better nutrition’. Our scientific mission is ‘to conduct interdisciplinary human observational and experimental research on nutrition in disease aetiology, during treatment and for prognosis’. We focus on cardiometabolic diseases, cancer, gastro-intestinal diseases and obesity.

The chair group comprises a team of experts in the field of epidemiology, nutrition, medicine, physiology, biostatistics and medical biology. We conduct observational epidemiological studies, experimental studies in individuals at (high-)risk or with (preclinical) disease, clinically oriented research and meta-analyses. Human observational and experimental studies are used to study the role of healthy and sustainable nutrition, genetic susceptibility and lifestyle factors in the aetiology and prevention of chronic nutrition-related diseases, underpinned with research on pathophysiological mechanisms. Our clinically orientated research focuses on short-and long-term recovery of chronic and acute diseases through healthy and sustainable diets and well-accepted nutritious foods combined with physical activity.

Novel methods of dietary assessment and data-analysis, as well as (bio)markers of exposure, function, metabolism, genetic susceptibility, body composition, and (pre-) disease are being developed, evaluated and used in these studies in collaboration with colleagues within the Division of Human Nutrition and Health. Furthermore, research is conducted in close collaboration with the Alliance Nutrition in Health Care and various peripheral and academic hospitals.

We define four research themes:

1. Cancer

Our research on cancer mainly focusses on nutrition and other lifestyle factors in relation to the development and progression of colorectal cancer and breast cancer. We study a wide range of dietary exposures, including B-vitamins, vitamin D, dietary supplements, body composition and dietary patterns. Endpoints that are studied are cancer incidence and cancer survival and treatment complications, but we also investigate underlying mechanisms, e.g. by evaluating diet-gene interactions, epigenetics, gene-expression, intestinal and tumor microbiota, and inflammatory markers. Our studies are conducted in high-risk individuals, cancer patients and the general population.

2. Cardiovascular diseases

Our research on cardiovascular diseases mainly focuses on nutrition in relation to coronary heart disease and stroke. Research is done on cardiovascular disease endpoints and on blood pressure, serum lipids, kidney function and pathophysiological processes, such as endothelial dysfunction and inflammation. Cardiovascular diseases are primarily caused by an unhealthy diet and lifestyle. We study a wide range of dietary factors, including minerals, salt, fatty acids, protein, polyphenols, dairy products, plant foods, and dietary patterns.

3. Chronic bowel diseases

Our research focuses on adult patients with inflammatory bowel diseases (IBD) and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). In observational and intervention studies we investigate whether changes in the diet (e.g. increasing the amount of fibre, or reducing the amount of inflammatory nutrients) help patients to better manage their symptoms and reduce disease progression. Part of our research is dedicated to markers of intestinal health, barrier function and integrity. Permeability tests with multiple sugars and barrier markers such as zonulin are performed and further developed and tested. Interventions include lifestyle programmes, probiotics and prebiotics.  We closely collaborate with the other chair groups, the Laboratory of Microbiology, and colleagues at Food and Biobased Research.

4. Obesity treatment

Our research focusses on patients with morbid obesity. Every year in the Netherlands, approximately 12,000 people with morbid obesity undergo bariatric surgery. Rijnstate, Vitalys and Wageningen University & Research work together through the Alliance Nutrition and Healthcare on optimal nutritional care for these patients - before and after the procedure. We focus on four areas of research, namely

1) Nutritional status after bariatric surgery,

2) Bodyweight loss after bariatric surgery

3) Obesity related comorbidities (sleep apnea) and

4) Improving surgical techniques.

Topics include amongst others factors affecting post-surgery long-term bodyweight loss such as hormonal changes and microbiome composition, but also patients’ cognitive functioning, food preference, gastric emptying and adequacy of dietary intake. The consequences of bariatric surgery on the course of pregnancy and the development of the unborn child are studied by means of a multi-centre cohort study. Intervention studies are conducted for optimisation of vitamin supplements, to study the effects of pre-operative bodyweight loss on liver size and visceral adipose tissue (abdominal fat) in order to improve surgery outcomes and to study the effects of adjustments to the gastric bypass in order to prevent bodyweight regain.

Key publications Nutrition and Disease

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