Researchers at the Australian National Phenome Centre at Murdoch University and partners at Imperial College London have made a major breakthrough in understanding how individuals can have different reactions to the same diets.
For decades, nutritionists and scientists have been debating whether weight loss is down to sheer will power and healthiness of diet, or whether maintaining a healthy weight is down to your genes.
In an article released today in the Nature Food journal, researchers show that people react differently to being fed exactly the same diet over a four-day period and that their urine contains different patterns of chemicals suggesting that we each have a unique response to diet.
ANPC Director and Pro Vice Chancellor of Murdoch University’s Health Futures Institute Professor Jeremy Nicholson said although everyone consumed the same amount of calories, some people “excreted” more calories in their urine than others.
“The interaction between our genes and environment is complex and understanding the relationship between our metabolic response to diet is key to the prevention of chronic conditions such as obesity, heart disease and diabetes,” Professor Nicholson said.
As part of the research, a group of healthy individuals were given four different diets ranging from a healthy diet, containing lots of fruit, vegetables and fiber, to the equivalent of a fast food diet and their metabolism was measured using molecular profiling technology.
“Some individuals were more responsive to diet than others, regardless of whether the diet was healthy or not,” Professor Nicholson said. “The metabolic pathways that were activated after each diet were found to be different between people, with these differences relating to blood glucose levels.
Several of the chemicals that changed in the urine were generated by the gut bacteria which is consistent with the fact that people have different gut bacteria and that these bacteria can use different foods as fuel.”
Premier’s Fellow and Professor of Computational Medicine at Murdoch University Professor Elaine Holmes said understanding how the bacteria are impacted by diet at the individual level will help to develop new dietary strategies for maintaining health.
“Based on the metabolic response to the four different diets, we were able to create a model that can predict the healthiness of a person’s diet,” Professor Holmes said. “We tested the model in two different populations and compared the chemical profiles to dietary records.
This model will provide a framework for developing precision nutrition programs aimed at healthy weight loss or maintenance.”
Dr. Isabel Garcia-Perez from the Department of Metabolism, Digestion and Reproduction at Imperial College London said: “We are in the process of implementing this tool in our dietitian clinics to improve the nutritional management of patients and we believe that this personalized approach will make a real difference to patients.”
Professor Gary Frost the Head of Nutrition Research at Imperial College said: “This is a real paradigm shift in personalized nutrition research – for the first time we have tools that can rapidly evaluate the diet-microbiome interactions that affect individual responses to complex diet patterns in the real wood.”
Professor Nicholson said given the global importance of both over and under-nutrition in driving chronic disease, any new method that helps to understand response to diet at the individual or population level could be a valuable healthcare tool.
“This research is in line with the recently announced WA sustainable health initiative that requires creation of new metrics for both population health tools that are applicable to prevention of nutrition-related conditions such as heart disease and diabetes,” Professor Nicholson said.
Think about it. Your brain is always “on.” It takes care of your thoughts and movements, your breathing and heartbeat, your senses — it works hard 24/7, even while you’re asleep. This means your brain requires a constant supply of fuel.
That “fuel” comes from the foods you eat — and what’s in that fuel makes all the difference. Put simply, what you eat directly affects the structure and function of your brain and, ultimately, your mood.
Like an expensive car, your brain functions best when it gets only premium fuel. Eating high-quality foods that contain lots of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants nourishes the brain and protects it from oxidative stress — the “waste” (free radicals) produced when the body uses oxygen, which can damage cells.
Unfortunately, just like an expensive car, your brain can be damaged if you ingest anything other than premium fuel. If substances from “low-premium” fuel (such as what you get from processed or refined foods) get to the brain, it has little ability to get rid of them. Diets high in refined sugars, for example, are harmful to the brain.
In addition to worsening your body’s regulation of insulin, they also promote inflammation and oxidative stress. Multiple studies have found a correlation between a diet high in refined sugars and impaired brain function — and even a worsening of symptoms of mood disorders, such as depression.
It makes sense. If your brain is deprived of good-quality nutrition, or if free radicals or damaging inflammatory cells are circulating within the brain’s enclosed space, further contributing to brain tissue injury, consequences are to be expected. What’s interesting is that for many years, the medical field did not fully acknowledge the connection between mood and food.
Today, fortunately, the burgeoning field of nutritional psychiatry is finding there are many consequences and correlations between not only what you eat, how you feel, and how you ultimately behave, but also the kinds of bacteria that live in your gut.
How the foods you eat affect how you feel
Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that helps regulate sleep and appetite, mediate moods, and inhibit pain. Since about 95% of your serotonin is produced in your gastrointestinal tract, and your gastrointestinal tract is lined with a hundred million nerve cells, or neurons, it makes sense that the inner workings of your digestive system don’t just help you digest food, but also guide your emotions.
What’s more, the function of these neurons — and the production of neurotransmitters like serotonin — is highly influenced by the billions of “good” bacteria that make up your intestinal microbiome. These bacteria play an essential role in your health.
They protect the lining of your intestines and ensure they provide a strong barrier against toxins and “bad” bacteria; they limit inflammation; they improve how well you absorb nutrients from your food; and they activate neural pathways that travel directly between the gut and the brain.
Studies have compared “traditional” diets, like the Mediterranean diet and the traditional Japanese diet, to a typical “Western” diet and have shown that the risk of depression is 25% to 35% lower in those who eat a traditional diet.
Scientists account for this difference because these traditional diets tend to be high in vegetables, fruits, unprocessed grains, and fish and seafood, and to contain only modest amounts of lean meats and dairy.
They are also void of processed and refined foods and sugars, which are staples of the “Western” dietary pattern. In addition, many of these unprocessed foods are fermented, and therefore act as natural probiotics.
This may sound implausible to you, but the notion that good bacteria not only influence what your gut digests and absorbs, but that they also affect the degree of inflammation throughout your body, as well as your mood and energy level, is gaining traction among researchers.
Nutritional psychiatry: What does it mean for you?
Start paying attention to how eating different foods makes you feel — not just in the moment, but the next day. Try eating a “clean” diet for two to three weeks — that means cutting out all processed foods and sugar. See how you feel. Then slowly introduce foods back into your diet, one by one, and see how you feel.
When some people “go clean,” they cannot believe how much better they feel both physically and emotionally, and how much worse they then feel when they reintroduce the foods that are known to enhance inflammation.
Nutritional psychiatry: Your brain on food – https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/nutritional-psychiatry-your-brain-on-food-201511168626
More information: Isabel Garcia-Perez et al. Dietary metabotype modelling predicts individual responses to dietary interventions, Nature Food (2020). DOI: 10.1038/s43016-020-0092-z