Exploring host-microbiota interactions

New research approaches to improving metabolic and mental health

The role of our intestinal microbiota reaches far beyond fermentation of indigestible food components. Apart from immunological functions, they have a major impact on our metabolic and perhaps even mental health. Dutch research organization TNO is exploring this exciting field, known as host-microbiota interactions, and is developing and integrating a range of advanced models, techniques and trials. The insights generated will support manufacturers in the development of functional foods targeted at, for example, obesity.

The intestinal microbiota is frequently referred to as “an extra organ in the human body”. This is not surprising, given that our intestines contain up to 100 trillion bacteria, about 10 times more than there are cells in the body. The intestinal microbiota exert a wide range of functions: from playing a key role in the fermentation of indigestible food leftovers, to producing components that benefit intestinal epithelial cells and help inhibit attachment of pathogenic bacteria to the intestinal wall.

‘The intestinal microbiota affect not only our immune system, but also our metabolic and mental health’, says Guus Roeselers, Senior Research Scientist at TNO in Zeist, the Netherlands. ‘People with obesity appear to have different microbiota compositions compared to people of “normal” body weight. The hypothesis is that this affects dietary energy harvest’, he continues. ‘Moreover, experiments with germ-free mice have shown that mice display different behaviors depending on the composition of their intestinal microbiota. For example when showing anxiety.’

This article is available in full in the Summer 2013 issue of Nutraceuticals Now