Through detailed mapping of the effects of dietary components in our bodies, Wageningen Food & Biobased Research contributes to the development of products which are demonstrably good for human health.
Many companies in the food industry are fully engaged in the development of products containing ingredients which are presumed to promote health. However, the presence of these healthy substances is not in itself sufficient: Companies must be able to demonstrate that the product has a genuinely positive effect on human health. It’s important to remember that it’s not known whether certain components make a positive contribution. To deal with this issue properly, we develop tools together with private sector companies that allow the health effects of products to be substantiated. We focus mainly on the direct effects on intestinal function and the immune system. Both are of vital importance for maintaining health. Our expertise and tools can be deployed in the search for new ingredients, but are also useful in examining the effects of existing products. This takes into account the many variables that play a role in the development of raw materials and products.
Effects on intestinal function and immune system
Wageningen Food & Biobased Research has the experience and in-house facilities required to measure various forms of bioactivity in vitro. For instance, we carry out measurements on the bioactivity of individual dietary components on intestinal function and the immune system. We can examine both positive and negative effects. In this process, we look at the change in the expression of genes after they have been exposed to a component. But we also look at signalling compounds being formed, or the formation of histamine by allergens. As people never consume individual dietary components as such, we also study combinations of compounds or complete food products. This process examines the bioavailability of components which we expect to be healthy – to what extent do they pass through the intestinal wall and made available to places elsewhere in the body through the bloodstream or lymphatic system? To do this, we use techniques such as simulations of the upper digestive tract.
In vitro research and human studies
A good example of our research is the EU project FibeBiotics, which investigates the effects of dietary fibre on the immune system. We correlate the outcome of in vitro methods with the results from human intervention studies. FibeBiotics is expected to provide the tools to prove scientifically that certain dietary fibres and products enhance immunity and thus are beneficial to the health of specific consumer groups. In another project called EuBerry we focus on the effects of various types of berries on intestinal function. A third project example is the study into cashew allergy in young children: Here we partner with scientists from Erasmus MC and UMC Groningen to study the reactions of cultured cells to different amounts of protein from cashews in the laboratory. If we are successful, this means it is no longer necessary to submit young children to invasive in vivo studies. Moreover, the technology behind these tests can also be used to assess the allergenic risk of foods.