Metabolic health

Metabolic Health is one of the two overarching research themes of the Division of Human Nutrition and Health, as formally established in 2013. Our definition of Metabolic Health is the following: ‘To maintain homeostasis in metabolism when challenged during the lifecycle’. The theme is truly multidisciplinary, and topic of investigation in all the five Chairs of the Division. The overall goal is to demonstrate the impact of optimal nutrition and physical activity on metabolic health.

To reach our goal (to demonstrate the impact of optimal nutrition and physical activity on metabolic health) we aim to efficiently use the expertise of the division: molecular nutrition, pharmacology, physiology, sensory science, epidemiology, ranging from the cellular to individual to population level. Measurement and interpretation of metabolites is an important tool, in addition to functional tests and understanding the underlying mechanisms and pathways.


The theme includes three strategies. As a first we carry out joint studies; the BellyFat study and NQplus study are a good example of such studies. Next we also promote to make efficient use of each other’s research projects by planning convenient add-ons, and we will optimise the communication between researchers of the five chairs.

Research topics

The common research theme Metabolic Health is addressed by all chair groups in a multi-disciplinary way. The listed Academic staff members together form the working group on Metabolic Health, each member representing their Chair group. Some key characteristics:

Nutritional, Metabolism and Genomics

The aim of the work on nutrition and metabolic health is to further increase our understanding of the molecular effects of dietary interventions in humans using a comprehensive phenotyping approach by combining functional outcome measures with genomics tools before and after application of a so called ‘challenge’ test. This test aims to assess the body’s capability to cope with metabolic challenges as an indicator of health status.

Nutritional Biology

Inflammation is a driver of many chronic diseases, such as obesity, inflammatory bowel diseases, and cancer-associated cachexia. Research in the Nutritional Biology Group aims to find novel approaches that directly inhibit inflammatory responses or counteract their consequences.

Nutrition, physical activity and sports

An acute bout of (endurance) exercise triggers a response in skeletal muscle with local induction of numerous exercise factors  (e.g. ‘myokines’), induces a reduced gut barrier function and results in elevated levels of several of cytokines in the circulation. (Timing of) nutrient intake can alter this. Studying its consequences for – long-term – adaptation in relation to metabolic health and (athletic) performance is therefore a key issue.

Nutrition and metabolic syndrome

Diet is an important determinant of a cluster of cardiometabolic risk factors what is generally called the Metabolic Syndrome, a cluster that includes abdominal obesity, high glucose levels, high triglyceride levels and low HDL-cholesterol concentrations, and elevated blood pressure. Currently, the role of protein rich foods, carbohydrates, glycemic index, vitamin K, polyphenols, dietary patterns as well as exposure before and during pregnancy are investigated.

Nutrition and cancer

The research focuses on the role of diet and other lifestyle factors in the development of cancer, and more recently also on the role of diet, body composition, other lifestyle factors and diet-gene interactions during and after cancer treatment. The GI-tract is an important focus relevant to Metabolic Health.

Current key projects