A Gut Feeling - PulseResearch
April 25, 2017
Research examines the link between pulse consumption, gut health, and chronic disease
It is already known that chronic human illnesses such as inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), cancer, diabetes, and neurological disorders are related to imbalances in gut health. It is also generally known that the regular consumption of pulses has an effect on chronic diseases in humans and can reduce the risk of diabetes, obesity, cardiovascular disease, and cancer.
What is not as clear is the mechanism behind the link between pulse consumption and gut health. This is the question at the centre of ongoing research currently led by Krista Power, Research Scientist at Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, Guelph Food Research Centre, and Dr. Emma Allen-Vercoe, Associate Professor at the University of Guelph. Funded by Saskatchewan Pulse Growers (SPG), this research aims to determine exactly how different pulses affect gut health and what the impact of these effects are on humans, specifically in relation to chronic disease.
“The gut plays an important role in various human chronic diseases, not only those in the gastrointestinal tract, such as IBD and colon cancer but also those external to the gut, including obesity, neurological disorders, and diabetes, to name a few,” Dr. Power says. “Identifying a clear link between pulse consumption and gut health will reveal opportunities for the use of pulses and pulse-based foods in the effective treatment and prevention of many chronic diseases.”
In order to establish this link, Dr. Power and Dr. Allen-Vercoe will look at the nutritional components of pulses, how they are metabolized in the large intestinal tract, and how they modulate the structure and activity of microbes in the human intestine. In order to obtain this information, they will use something called the Robogut model, a complex recreation of the lower intestinal tract which makes the intricate study of human microbiota possible.
“The Robogut is a chemostat system set up as a life-support system for the microbes that live in the human gut,” Dr. Allen-Vercoe says. “Many of these microbes are very difficult or even impossible to culture using traditional microbiology techniques, which focus on isolation, so the Robogut allows us to culture them as part of a microbial ecosystem. The benefit of this is that this is much more physiologically relevant.”
They will also examine how pulse processing and cooking alters the effects of pulses on gut health. For example, cooking methods affect the relative proportions of starches, fibre, and composition of pulses, therefore influencing their potential to impact gut health. “Since pulses differ in terms of their levels and types of gut health promoting bioactives, we also hope to highlight which pulses are optimal for promoting gut health and reducing disease risk,” Dr. Allen-Vercoe says.
The research is expected to wrap up by March 2018, at which time Dr. Power and Dr. Allen-Vercoe hope to have a more concrete understanding of the relationship between pulses and gut health, which they hope will influence consumers and the food industry about how to best prepare pulse foods to achieve optimal gut health benefits. On a larger scale, they expect the research will stimulate more action within the pulse industry as a whole.
“Our results may stimulate the potential development of new pulse varieties that are rich in important gut health bioactives and impact functional food research to optimize pulse incorporation into foods designed to modulate gut microbiota and promote gut health,” Dr. Power says. “They might also stimulate more human health research and have an overall impact on pulse food consumption.”
SPG Investment: $329,563
Co-Funders: Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada ($912,125)
Project Lead(s): Dr. Krista Power, Research Scientist, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada Guelph Food Research Centre and Dr. Emma Allen-Vercoe, Associate Professor, University of Guelph