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The University of Southampton
Institute for Life SciencesHealth & Medicine

Nutrition

Our researchers are analysing how diet, nutrition and lifestyle can affect growth, development, metabolism and function with a view to develop new ways to improve public health and clinical practice.

Scientists from the Life Sciences are working together to tackle some of the world’s biggest health challenges. Non-communicable diseases (NCDs) such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease kill around 41 million world-wide every year, equivalent to 71 per cent of all deaths globally. Cardiovascular disease accounts for the most NCD deaths. Diet, nutrition and lifestyle and their interaction with our genetic make-up are the main causes of NCDs.

Our scientists, who are at the forefront of their fields, analyse how and why a person’s diet and lifestyle choices play a role in growth and development throughout the lifecourse.

Southampton is internationally recognised for its translational approach in taking basic scientific discoveries that have made important advances in the understanding of nutrition and translating them into public health or clinical interventions that help the public and patients on a daily basis.

Our research looks at nutrition at a molecular and cellular level to understand how parents’ lifestyle choices before a baby is conceived, changes the risk of disease and we are working to ensure the next generation of parents give their children the best start in life.  www.soton.ac.uk/lifelab

We also tackle health issues due to poor nutrition that impact on adults including liver disease and obesity as well as investigating how our nutrition affects us when we get older. Other areas of work include analysing epigenetic biomarkers to provide early warning of at-risk groups for lifelong disorders and how our microbiome (the community of bacteria that live in the body) plays a part in protecting from or triggering disease.

We work closely with organisations such as the British Heart Foundation, National Institute for Health Research and the Medical Research Council to further our research and ensure that it has a positive impact on people’s lives.
 

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Key words

Diabetes, Diet, Interdisciplinary, Lifestyle, Metabolism, Non-communicable disease, Nutrition, Obesity, Southampton

 

Please see a selection of postgraduate courses related to this subject area below. 

For the full range of undergraduate and postgraduate courses at the University of Southampton, please visit our courses webpages https://www.southampton.ac.uk/courses.page  

PhD Programme in Biomedical Research

We are one of the UK's leading centres for biomedical research and offer a range of postgraduate opportunities in both basic and clinical science.

DM Programme in Biomedical Research

We are one of the UK's leading centres for biomedical research and offer a range of postgraduate opportunities in both basic and clinical science.

MSc Global Health

An interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary degree programme that provides training on the principles, methods and research skills to understand, interpret and solve critical global health challenges.

MSc Public Health

A programme that provides training in all aspects of public health, with optional pathways specialising in nutrition, intelligence, global health and management.

MSc Health Psychology

This programme provides training in developing and evaluating cutting-edge interventions to promote healthy lifestyles and effective strategies for coping with illness.

Preventomics

Personalised medicine is an emerging and exciting area of medical science and it is now being applied to nutrition research. Together with partners at European research institutions, our scientists are leading a new project that will develop personalised plans for nutrition and lifestyle habits to improve the health of people, based on individual characteristics such as physical and behavioural traits, lifestyle, genetics, and metabolic state. 

Variants in our genes, known as polymorphisms, affect our metabolic processes which affects the risk of certain diseases and conditions. People with different genetic polymorphisms respond differently to nutrients from the foods they eat.  

This new project will develop an algorithm that will be able to match an individual’s genetic analysis – their polymorphisms - to the foods they should eat to remain healthy. In a controlled trial, participants will either be given standard dietary advice or be given information about their own genetic make-up and personalised advice about which foods they should eat or avoid.  Our researchers believe that participants armed with the extra and more personalised information about themselves, will change their behaviour to make nutrition choices and be more motivated to lead a healthier lifestyle.

Contacts: Prof Philip Calder

https://preventomics.eu/

 

NiPPer Study

Increasing evidence shows a mother’s nutritional state as she enters pregnancy is important for the baby’s development and life-long health. For example, if the mother has high blood sugar levels in pregnancy it can predispose the baby to having increased body fat and diabetes in later life. The food women eat, even before they are pregnant, can also program the baby by switching genes on or off to influence the risk of childhood obesity and other disorders.

In an international study involving collaborators from Singapore and New Zealand, our researchers are trialling the use of a combination of nutrients and probiotics before and during pregnancy to improve the health of mothers and their babies. 

The NiPPeR study provides all participating women with a nutrient drink before conception. The drink includes the vitamins and minerals already recommended for pregnancy. Half the women also get additional components in their drink, such as probiotics, as part of the trial. The women will then be followed through pregnancy and their baby’s first year of life.

The study aims to evaluate the benefits of the nutrient drinks for the mother and baby. The team is studying the effects on maintaining healthy levels of blood sugar, vitamins and minerals in the mother, and the potential to promote a healthy pregnancy and healthy growth and development of the child.
 

PUFA synthesis

Polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs), also known as Omega-3 and Omega-6 fats, are an integral part of the membranes of cells of the immune system and play a role in allowing them to fight an infection. However, as we get older, our immune system changes and we are less able to fight infections and are more likely to develop inflammatory disease. The decline in our immune system with age is not yet fully understood so it is important to find out whether PUFAs play a role in this decline.

Our scientists have shown for the first time, that PUFA synthesis, a process in which immune cells make bioactive PUFAs from essential fatty acids (EFAs), which are derived from plants and have to be consumed in the diet, can influence the ability of immune cells to become activated and to multiply, which are important aspects of how the immune system works.  Their current project is focussed on understanding how PUFA synthesis regulates immune cells.  This involves collecting blood from healthy volunteers of different ages, isolating the immune cells and activating them outside the body.  The team is using gene tools to dissect the processes that link PUFA synthesis to the immune response.  

This is a ground-breaking piece of research, which could change our understanding of the way in which immune cells become activated to mount an immune response allowing.  The potential applications of this work include developing new ways to support optimal immune function, for example through nutrition, and to understand how the effectiveness of the immune response differs between individuals and with increasing age.  It is also hoped that results will increase understanding about how the immune system malfunctions in conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis and help to identify new targets for drugs to treat inflammatory diseases.

Contacts: Prof Graham Burdge
 

Alternative sources of omega-3

Omega-3 fatty acids found in fish oil, namely eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) are important for normal development and health.  However, UK adults consume less than 50 per cent of the recommended amount of EPA plus DHA.  This mainly reflects cost and dietary choice, particularly with the increasing popularity of diets which exclude fish and animal products.  Moreover, the world supply of EPA and DHA from marine sources can only provide one sixth of the amount of EPA and DHA needed to provide enough of these fats to meet the needs of the global population.

In an attempt to find an alternative to oily fish as the source of EPA and DHA, researchers at Rothamsted Research have developed a transgenic variety of the seed oil crop Camelina sativa which produces EPA and DHA in similar amounts to those found in fish oil.  However, this seed oil has not been tested in humans. To address this, our researchers are conducting a human trial to test whether the modified seed oil is as good a source of EPA and DHA as fish oil.  In the first phase of the study, the uptake of EPA and DHA from a meal containing either fish oil or the equivalent amount of the modified seed oil was monitored.  The results showed there was no detectable difference between the oils, and the participants reported no adverse effects.  Our team is now investigating whether consuming the modified seed oil for a longer period has similar effects on the function of the immune system as fish oil.

We have been able to show, for the first time, that an oil from a genetically modified plant is a suitable alternative to fish oil as a source of EPA and DHA in the human diet.  Furthermore, the modified plant oil could potentially provide a source of EPA and DHA for people who chose not to consume animal products and a solution to the problem of the limited amount of EPA and DHA that can be provided from the sea.

Contacts: Prof Graham Burdge  

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