Scientists at the University of Warwick and consumer goods manufacturer Unilever are joining forces to identify whether the nutrients in everyday fruit and vegetables could help to improve people's cardiovascular health and protect them from Type-2 diabetes.
The research collaboration has been set up to better understand if the nutrients and bioactives in fruits like grapes, strawberries and olives – in the right combination – could have a greater impact on people's heart and vascular health.
The study's hypothesis is that the nutrients found in fruit help to trigger cell defence mechanisms in the tissue walls of blood vessels which not only protect them from the damage caused by the ageing process, but also help to prevent the onset of Type-2 diabetes. If proven, it would be the first time a direct association has been made between eating fruit and improving heart health.
During the three-year programme, innovative screening technology developed by the University of Warwick will be used to identify which fruit and vegetables have the right nutrients to have a positive impact on people's vascular health. These findings will then be used to develop prototype products to be tested on human blood vessels using in vitro trials.
If successful, clinical trials of the prototype products would then be carried out on middle-aged, overweight volunteers using state-of-the-art metabolism research equipment at University Hospitals Coventry & Warwick Trusts (UHCW). The volunteers will have their blood vessel function and glucose levels monitored to demonstrate which foods directly activate and optimise protective qualities and functions within our bodies.
The £1.1m research study, which has been co-funded by the UK Technology Strategy Board, the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) and Unilever, might one day result in a new range of healthy products which contain ingredients designed to help improve people's cardiovascular health.
Professor Paul Thornalley from Warwick Medical School explained: "Linking the expertise from industry and our scientific research, added to the ability to trial foods in a clinical setting at University Hospitals Coventry & Warwickshire Trusts (UHCW), gives us a perfect platform to drive the research forward.
"We believe we can harness the health-giving properties of fruits such as grapes, strawberries and olives to raise the body's natural defences against developing heart disease and diabetes and therefore help tackle the growing problems of declining health in our ageing and increasingly overweight population."
Dr Gail Jenkins, based at Unilever's Research & Development laboratories at Colworth Science Park, near Bedford, added: "This research is firstly about improving our understanding of which fruit and vegetables are good for our heart health, and then testing these findings in clinical trials to see if one day we can develop a product which activates people's cell defence systems to help improve their vascular function and help protect them from Type-2 diabetes. It's a hugely exciting challenge which could significantly help us encourage our consumers to take small everyday actions to improve their health."