Metabolism-based personalised diet better for health

For the first time, there is scientific evidence that a personalised diet based on a person's metabolic profile leads to better health. This is an important step towards more effective nutritional interventions aimed at improving health and preventing chronic diseases.

This conclusion is based on years of research in a large-scale public-private partnership within TiFN, in which Maastricht UMC+ (MUMC+) and Wageningen University & Research joined forces with various knowledge institutions and companies in the food industry. The research was conducted under the leadership of MUMC+ professor of human biology Ellen Blaak. The results appeared in the leading scientific journal Cell Metabolism.

Personalised diet

In practice, personalised nutrition is already often assumed to have positive effects, but without scientific insight into the functioning and effect of such a diet. The researchers therefore designed a study in which 242 research participants followed a three-month nutrition programme tailored to their metabolic profile. The recommended diet met the Health Council's Good Nutrition guidelines.

Before and after this programme, glucose and fat metabolism and sensitivity to the hormone insulin were measured. Insulin plays an important role in the regulation of sugar metabolism. These are important measures of the risk of diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Thus, the study did not focus on body weight and weight loss.

Metabolic profile

Metabolism-based personalised diet better for health

The research participants were divided into two groups based on their metabolic profile. This is because metabolic functioning differs from person to person. The classification was based on how well insulin does its job in the liver and muscles. When insulin functions are impaired, cells in the body are less able or unable to control sugar levels in the blood, which can eventually lead to type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

Participants were then given a personalised nutrition programme based on lottery. People who were less sensitive to the action of insulin in muscles were found to benefit more from foods relatively high in protein (e.g. lots of dairy and nuts) and dietary fibre (e.g. whole grain products and vegetables) and low in fat. Participants with impaired insulin action in the liver benefited more from a diet high in monounsaturated fatty acids (e.g. lots of olive oil and nuts).

Not sick, but increased risk of chronic disease

The subjects were overweight (BMI above 25 kg/m2) and had metabolic disturbances, but not yet diabetes or cardiovascular disease. With targeted interventions, these people can improve the properties of their metabolism and thus reduce the risk of chronic diseases, such as type 2 diabetes.

Blaak: 'Let's look at diabetes, for example: one of the most common chronic diseases. Some 1.2 million Dutch people have it and about 1,000 diagnoses are added every week. So there is a great need for preventive interventions, which are proven to improve people's health and reduce the risk of diabetes as well as other chronic diseases.'

Person-centred interventions

The research opens the way towards more person-centred interventions, says Blaak: 'This is the first study to show that matching nutrition to a person's metabolic type gives more improvement in health than following general dietary recommendations. These metabolic types can be determined from a simple sugar test. This offers prospects for practical application in the foreseeable future.'

'In follow-up research, we want to determine more types of metabolic traits and also further investigate how they can be influenced with nutritional and lifestyle interventions. The tests that measure these properties will also have to be further developed. Possibly even into a simple diagnostic or self-test. This means that in the somewhat longer term, based on their own health signature, people will be able to receive more personal nutritional guidance or make nutritional choices that will help them improve their health and prevent chronic diseases.'

 Also listen to the interview with Prof Ellen Blaak on BNR Nieuwsradio (in Dutch)

This press release was originally published by MUMC+