Food for vigilance

A growing number of professionals work outside regular office hours, many of them in a type of job that brings psychological or physical stress while requiring optimal alertness. These professionals are found in air traffic control, transportation, airplane piloting, emergency work, etc., both in civil and military contexts. Even a tiny lapse in their alertness can carry large risks for themselves and others. There is a well-known link between the amount and type of food ingested and ones level of alertness, but most evidence is anecdotal or based on laboratory studies that may not allow translation to real working circumstances. In this project a consortium of societal parties teams up with two universities and a research institute to study the link between food and alertness in real working circumstances.  

Two questions have to be answered first:

1: How can alertness be accurately assessed in the lab as well as under real working circumstances? and,

2: What mechanisms are responsible for effects of food on alertness?

The first question will be addressed by devising a test battery based on the requirements of the partners in this research program. The second question will address the gut-brain axis as the primary working mechanism for effects that food has on alertness. These effects can occur via certain neurotransmitters (and their precursors), through the composition of foods (fibres, proteins, phytochemicals, etc.) and through pre-/probiotics affecting the gut microbiome.

The findings of this research program will be used in safety critical contexts (by the Ministry of Defence and Thales), in novel food ingredients (by DSM), in advice about shift work (e.g. through Circadian) and in transportation safety (through NLR, LVNL, KLM and Thales).