Genes indicate which fibres are healthy

Certain fibres have been shown to have an impact on various health aspects, including lowering cholesterol levels. There are also indications that fibres may have beneficial effects on the immune system, although absolute proof has yet to be found. Jurriaan Mes and his team are studying the genes of intestinal cells to understand how fibres work.

Mes and his colleagues cultivate intestinal cells outside of the human body before adding various dietary fibres. He then monitors which genes in the intestinal cells are switched on and off. While research is still ongoing, the first results are already offering new insights into the functioning of fibres. It has been found, for instance, that some dietary fibres have a positive effect on cholesterol levels. “We always thought that this occurred because the fibres adhere to  the cholesterol, and thus prevent it from entering the bloodstream from the intestines. Now we see that genes that make the body produce cholesterol also change.” The study shows that fibres also cause intestinal cells produce more signal substances that activate immune cells.

Research programme into the functioning of fibres

The research performed by Mes is part of the European programme Fibebiotics, which is focused on strengthening scientific proof for the functioning of fibres to such an extent that food companies can make claims for products rich in fibres which have a proven positive immune effect. “There are strong indications that some fibres have an impact on the immune system,” he adds. “We hope these tests will contribute to the dossier.”

Previous research on berries

Mes previously used similar techniques to study the effect of berries on the human body. The research showed that berries in the intestines change the activity of genes involved in the production of amyloid beta, a protein related to the development of Alzheimer’s disease.