Food for Thought

Food for Thought

Can certain types of foods help to prevent health problems more than others? It’s probable, according to a study by academics at the University of East Anglia, who are using a fresh approach to look into how the body reacts to food at a molecular level.

There are usually two different ways to study the health benefits of food. One is a traditional nutritional approach, where researchers may look at the preventative health benefits of eating certain types of food (such as ‘super foods’ like blueberries or broccoli). The other is a medicinal chemistry approach, which may look to plant-based molecules for the discovery or design of new drugs. 

This unique study, however, combines the two approaches, bringing nutrition researchers and pharmaceutical scientists together. Dr Colin Kay of Norwich Medical School is working with Prof Mark Searcey and Dr Maria O’Connell from the School of Pharmacy, to study flavonoids found in foods and their effect on our health. 

The health benefits of dietary flavonoids are widely recognised, although very little is understood about how they work (and their benefits aren’t yet publically endorsed by Government health bodies). 

To establish how the body breaks down and processes flavonoids at a molecular level, the researchers are using a medicinal chemistry technique called structure activity relationship (SAR) analysis, commonly used for drug discovery. This can hopefully give some insight into foods that support metabolism to improve health and prevent illness in old age.

The ultimate goal of this research is to enable people to be much better informed about the food they eat. So, rather than just advising people to eat their ‘5-a-day’, this research will tell them what foods could be better for them as individuals. For example, if you’re at risk of a disease such as heart disease, it could tell you which foods, when metabolised, will have the greatest impact on fighting that specific disease. 

This combined nutritional-pharmaceutical approach could have enormous impact on the way we think about food – with the potential to develop personal eating plans to improve our overall health. 

The trial, which is sponsored by BBSRC, is just beginning, with results due to be published in 2018-2020.