Phytochemicals and gut microflora in health and disease

There is a wealth of data supporting an inverse correlation between fruit and vegetable consumption with both mortality and incidence of chronic diseases; therefore it is unsurprising that bioactive phytochemicals within these foods are an area of intense scientific interest.

In a broad sense we consider phytochemicals to consist of any combination of the very diverse range of relatively minor plant biochemical species, which are not recognised as nutrients, but that may exert health benefits through as yet ill-defined mechanisms.

Phytochemicals from sources including berries, olives, soya and crucifer species are being assessed for potential effects on inflammation & carcinogenesis; as well as their ability to inhibit uncontrolled microvascular growth, which is a hallmark of all major diseases.

We are investigating the positive effects of these naturally produced phytochemicals using combinations of in vitro, animal and human interventions studies. Of particular interest is the realisation that for gut health (poly)phenols from a wide range of fruits and vegetables undergo digestion and microbiota-mediated alterations in their structure and function which effects their bioactivity.

Using in vitro and in vivo models of digestion in concert with metabolomics and nutrigenomic tools, in addition to assays examining microvascular growth, we are investigating the complex interactions between phytochemicals, and risk factors for chronic diseases.

Much of our research is cross-disciplinary and we work closely with other research areas within NICHE, as well as colleagues in Ireland, Britain, Europe and beyond, including functional food based EU project such as SWAFAX and HYFFI.