Project

Finding evidence for positive effects of food on the immune system

An effective immune system is vital to our health. Many food products claim to be good for the immune system, but there is too little evidence supporting these claims. FibeBiotics is developing a strategy designed to provide evidence of the positive effects on the immune system, particularly on the basis of specific products for older people containing polysaccharides.

Aim

A systematic strategy to support the development of functional food products is being devised. The main focus is on products containing polysaccharides, aimed at boosting the immune systems of the elderly. Polysaccharides are large carbohydrates, comprising ten or more units of monosaccharide. Every polysaccharide is different, making it important to know which will contribute to an alert immune system and which will not. The ultimate aim is to develop products for the European market that have a scientifically proven positive effect on the immune system. But also to develop in vitro models that will reduce the need for animals when testing products like these.

Research into the formulation of a stable bioactive product (and the quality control this entails) is needed in order to develop products that will potentially boost the immune system. There are currently no good methods for monitoring and optimising this bioactivity.

Action plan

An efficient, well-balanced immune system is vital to our health. Many products on the market claim to be good for the immune system, but there is often insufficient scientific evidence to corroborate these claims.

In order to develop products that will potentially boost the immune system, we first need to study the product and carry out research to find out how to formulate a stable bioactive product and which quality control checks need to be carried out. Many organic products vary in terms of bioactive components and bioactivity due to differences in genetic variation, crop, harvest, processing and additional components.

As yet, there are no good methods for monitoring and optimising this bioactivity. Researchers on this project are working on methods to determine a systematic approach to the bioactivity of polysaccharides and their ability to boost the human immune system.

Results

Many different polysaccharides (fibres) are currently available on the market or mentioned in publications. The Beta glucans, pectins and arabinoxylan are just a few. The positive effect of many traditional medicines can probably also be put down to polysaccharides. Evidence of the direct positive effect of some of them has been obtained via in vitro and in vivo analyses. However, it is thought that different polysaccharides prompt different bioactivity. Constructing a pipeline of cell assays and measuring the cells’ responses on the polysaccharides (while taking account of matrix effects or other components in the same product) will lead to a method for classifying polysaccharides according to bioactivity. A fair prediction of bioactivity in humans can be made by correlating the responses recorded in vitro with those measured after interventions in humans.

Two research groups have been set up for the project, one of which is studying the effects on the innate system while the other examines the adaptive immune system (via analysis of vaccination efficiency after the flu jab). The ultimate aim is to develop products that will improve the immune system of the elderly, thereby ensuring that vaccinations provide better protection against flu, colds and other immune-related illnesses.

An additional application of the pipeline of methods and systematic comparisons is the potential for checking food supplements for the presence of bioactive substances or components that may form a risk to the immune system.

Publicaties