Unravelling the biology behind perceivable consumer benefits

Project leader: Prof Ellen Blaak
Time frame: 2017 – 2021
Project code: 16NH04
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A healthy lifestyle is an essential element to release the physical and mental potential of every individual, and is able to prevent the epidemic development of overweight and cardiometabolic diseases. Unfortunately, most people do not manage to incorporate or to maintain the recommended changes in their daily lifestyle. This may be due to the fact that people do not perceive the benefits of a healthy lifestyle in the short term, nor the adverse effects of an unhealthy lifestyle.

It is increasingly recognised that maintaining well-controlled blood glucose concentrations is essential for remaining healthy and preventing chronic metabolic diseases. Additionally, there is evidence that well-controlled blood glucose concentrations (by boosting physical and mental energy) may be an important determinant of well-being, mental and physical performance. The link between blood glucose and the latter factors has hardly been studied. Moreover, it is not known to what extent these relationships differ in healthy subjects and subjects with an impaired glucose metabolism, and what the impact is of a disturbed circadian rhythm. When people feel better, fitter and/or otherwise motivated to follow a dietary advice, for instance by personalized feedback on physiological measures of glucose control or other indicators of health status, the implementation of a healthy lifestyle is expected to be more successful.

Furthermore, despite being compliant to lifestyle advices, the metabolic flexibility to respond to lifestyle intervention may vary between individuals. Recent evidence indicates that insulin resistance and metabolic inflexibility may develop separately in different organs, representing different etiologies towards cardio-metabolic diseases. Interestingly, these tissue-specific sub-phenotypes may have a differential response to diet. In a recent ground-breaking study, it was shown that, despite high inter-individual variability in glycemic response, responses to individual meals in daily life could be more accurately predicted by means of an algorithm that included lifestyle factors (diet, physical activity) and microbial composition as compared to a prediction by common practice. The above data suggests that successful lifestyle interventions may require a more personalised approach.

Key objectives

  • Obtain insight into the metabolic and lifestyle determinants of blood glucose responses and glycemic variability, and relate the latter responses to mental and physical performance and well-being
  • Study how acute and chronic dietary and/or physical activity interventions affect blood glucose homeostasis in metabolically different subgroups and how this consequently alters the related mental and physical performance, well-being and food preferences
  • Develop multi-scale tissue dynamic and mathematical models on diet and lifestyle (physical activity) in relation to blood glucose homeostasis (including microbiota and host metabolism) and mental and physical performance and well-being
  • Test whether tailored dietary interventions/physical activity programmes based on these models may improve blood glucose homeostasis and physical and mental performance and well-being
  • Evaluate the application of wearables and other tools to quantify the biological and mental biomarkers

Main deliverables

  • Establishment of (cause-effect) relationships between blood glucose homeostasis, the underlying tissue-related physiology and the perceivable benefits connected to mental and physical performance and well-being
  • Demonstration that subgroup-based dietary/lifestyle intervention may optimize the beneficial effect on blood-glucose homeostasis and metabolic health and related perceivable benefits
  • Generation of multi-tissue dynamic and mathematical models that can determine the ranges at which diet/lifestyle intervention can modulate the blood-glucose homeostasis and underlying physiology and in turn, the related perceivable benefits
  • Proof of the concept, and more detailed knowledge on more personalised and effective lifestyle-related strategies to improve blood glucose management and related perceivable benefits