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The Windy City buzzed with excitement as many nutrition enthusiasts, from seasoned scientists to eager students, converged for a conference.

NUTRITION 2024, the annual flagship meeting of the American Society of Nutrition, was held in Chicago June 29 – July 2. Nutrition and lab scientists, clinicians, researchers, practitioners and students from around the world gathered for the event, which presented research, live interaction and networking opportunities. Attendees were treated to a feast of knowledge, exploring the latest in micronutrients and supplementation, cancer dietary therapies, maternal and infant nutrition, children’s health and development, diet-gut microbiome interactions, innovative obesity interventions and more.

The ARC Health and Wellness Community attended three sessions: Diet-Gut Microbiome Interactions in Health and Disease, Personalized Dietary Therapy for Cancer Treatment and Survivorship, and Behavioral Interventions in Obesity: What’s New. Here are highlights from each session.

Ishita Mostafa, Ph.D. and associate scientist at health research institute icddr,b, gives her presentation, “A Microbiota-Directed Complementary Food Intervention in 12-18-Month-Old Bangladeshi Children Improves Linear Growth.” (Rachel Kubik / ARC Health and Wellness Community)

Diet-Gut Microbiome Interactions in Health and Disease

This oral session revealed six research studies, presented by one of the many authors of the research.

Ishita Mostafa, Ph.D. and associate scientist at international health research institute icddr,b, discussed the effectiveness of supplemental foods and microbiota dietary interventions in malnourished children in Bangladesh. Superior growth responses to microbiota-directed complementary food were associated with a higher abundance of beneficial bacteria in fecal matter. Additionally, increased levels of 38 plasma proteins related to growth and development, such as IGF-1 and neurotrophin receptor NTRK2, persisted for six months post-intervention. A three-month intervention with microbiota-directed complementary food in the Bangladeshi children with moderate acute malnutrition resulted in better linear growth compared to a standard ready-to-use supplementary food.

Kristi Crowe-White, Ph.D., RD and associate professor at the University of Alabama, discussed findings from her study which investigated the effects of yogurt, with and without a culinary premeasured dose of polyphenol-rich spices cinnamon (3 grams) and ginger (1 gram) on the gut microbiota, gut-derived metabolites and hormones and cardiometabolic outcomes among post-menopausal women. This group was selected due to its hormone pattern consistencies. The study found no significant treatment effect on the alpha- or beta-diversity of the gut microbiome in participants consuming three or fewer polyphenol-rich foods daily.

However, short-chain fatty acid concentrations in stool samples increased in the spice treatment arm, accompanied by a significant rise in circulating leptin and a non-significant increase in peptide YY. Additionally, a significant reduction in the total cholesterol ratio was observed among cardiometabolic outcomes. While the gut microbiome composition was not significantly altered, the findings suggest that polyphenol-rich spices enhance the release of gut-derived hormones and modulate cholesterol metabolism when added to yogurt. Thus, targeting the gut microbiome with culinary spices to stimulate short-chain fatty acids production may benefit cardiometabolic health.

“The reason that was decided upon is yogurt is the standard of care for promoting gut health and gut integrity and functionality,” Crowe-White said.

Opeyemi Ogedengbe, MS, a graduate student at the University of Maryland, College Park, talked about her study which aimed to determine whether the inclusion of Urtica dioica, or common nettle, in a high-fat diet could protect against obesity in the absence of gut microbiota, building on previous findings that Urtica dioica attenuates fat accumulation and insulin resistance via gut microbiota functions. Results showed that Urtica dioica supplementation reduced high-fat diet-induced fat accumulation and insulin resistance in both germ-free and conventional mice. In germ-free mice, Urtica dioica supplementation led to a significant reduction in body weight, total fat pad weight and liver weight. Similarly, in conventional mice, Urtica dioica decreased these parameters. Gene expression analysis revealed that Urtica dioica downregulated lipogenesis-related genes in germ-free mice and promoted fat metabolism-related genes in conventional mice. Additionally, Urtica dioica supplementation resulted in a four-fold decrease in the inflammation-associated metabolite 4-hydroxyquinoline in conventional mice. The study concluded that bioactive compounds in Urtica dioica mitigate diet-induced obesity through mechanisms that are both dependent and independent of the gut microbiota.

Elizabeth Pletsch, Ph.D., post-doctoral research associate at the USDA Agricultural Research Service – Beltsville Human Nutrition Research Center, discussed her study that aimed to examine the effects of a broccoli-enriched diet on the gut microbiome and gene expression in animals consuming a Total Western Diet (TWD). It also aimed to investigate the susceptibility to bacterial-induced colitis in animals fed the same diets. Broccoli consumption was found to alter microbial diversity, intestinal gene expression and reduce susceptibility to bacterial infection.

Edwin Ortega, Ph.D., post-doctoral scholar at the University of California, San Francisco, spoke about his investigation of the associations between the gut microbiome, cancer, lifespan and markers of health and disease in mice fed either a low or high-fat diet, with or without fruits and vegetables. The results indicated that both age and diet significantly influenced the composition and function of the gut microbiome. Mice fed fruits and vegetables showed enriched short-chain fatty acid-producing bacteria and higher fecal butyrate and acetate levels, counteracting the negative microbiome changes linked to high-fat diets, such as obesity and liver diseases. Fruit and vegetable intake was associated with beneficial bacterial genes and reduced markers for liver cancer and inflammation, highlighting its role in promoting a healthier gut microbiome and mitigating diet-induced health risks.

“It’s not just one disease as we age, there’s multiple, or multi comorbidity,” Ortega said. “This is really what’s impacting a lot of Americans and developed nations.”

Hee-Seop Lee, Ph.D., postdoctoral scholar at the University of Arkansas, gives his presentation, “Apiaceous Vegetables Improved Gut Dysbiosis Induced by Dextran Sodium Sulfate in Mice Consuming Total Western Diet.” (Rachel Kubik / ARC Health and Wellness Community)

Hee-Seop Lee, Ph.D., postdoctoral scholar at the University of Arkansas, presented a study which aimed to investigate whether apiaceous vegetables (API; celery, parsnip) supplemented to a TWD could improve gut microbiome dysbiosis in mice with dextran sulfate sodium (DSS)-induced colitis. The results showed that while alpha diversity decreased over time in all groups, API supplementation mitigated this effect. The study concluded that TWD and DSS both lead to gut microbiome diversity loss and alterations, while API vegetable intake helps protect against these changes, suggesting a protective role against gut dysbiosis mediated by a Western diet and colitis.

Personalized Dietary Therapy for Cancer Treatment and Survivorship
This oral session presented five research studies.

Yun Chen, Ph.D., postdoctoral research fellow at the Yale School of Nursing, spoke about her study which evaluated the association between adherence to a diabetes risk reduction diet and the risk of liver cancer development and chronic liver disease mortality. (Rachel Kubik / ARC Health and Wellness Community)

Yun Chen, Ph.D., postdoctoral research fellow at the Yale School of Nursing, spoke about her study which evaluated the association between adherence to a diabetes risk reduction diet (DRRD) and the risk of liver cancer development and chronic liver disease mortality in postmenopausal women. A higher DRRD score was significantly associated with a reduced risk of liver cancer and chronic liver disease mortality. High dietary fiber and coffee intake showed inverse associations with these risks, while dietary glycemic index, sugar-sweetened beverages and trans fats showed positive associations.

Jazmin Machuca, BS, Ph.D. student at the University of California, Davis, discussed research which aimed to investigate whether switching from a high-fat diet to a low-fat diet (11% calories from fat) could mitigate or reverse the effects of pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma (PDAC).

“Pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma, or PDAC for short, is a highly aggressive and lethal disease,” Machuca said.

Over 21 weeks, mice on a high-fat diet experienced increased body weight, disrupted tight junction structure and function, elevated colonic TLR-4 expression, activation of downstream proinflammatory cascades and increased MMP-2 and MMP-9 activity, which degrades tight junction proteins. However, switching to a low-fat diet reversed or mitigated these adverse effects. The dietary modification, along with the associated weight loss, mitigated intestinal permeabilization, systemic inflammation and potentially reduced the risk of PDAC development.

Gerardo Mackenzie, Ph.D., associate professor at the University of California, Davis, spoke about his study which investigated how changes in dietary fat quantity and composition impact pancreatic carcinogenesis and the underlying mechanisms. The findings suggested that dietary modifications in fat quantity and composition can mitigate obesity-induced pancreatic carcinogenesis by affecting immune and cell signaling pathways and modulating the gut microbiome.

Jioh Kang, MS, graduate student at Seoul National University, discussed her study that aimed to investigate the association between ultra-processed food intake and colorectal adenoma among Korean adults. However, the study concluded that ultra-processed food intake was not associated with a higher prevalence of colorectal adenoma in Korean adults.

Elizabeth Grainger, Ph.D., RDN, research dietitian at The Ohio State University, spoke about her study which hypothesized that incorporating lean, unprocessed beef (11-18 ounces per week) into a healthy diet would not negatively impact cardiometabolic outcomes in cancer survivors.

“We knew from two previous research studies with cancer survivors when we collected a lot of diet data, that cancer survivors tended to not eat very much red meat or beef, less than the kind of typical American,” Grainger said.

Metabolomic analysis indicated reductions in primary and secondary bile acid concentrations and lipidomic signatures. No significant differences were observed between the groups for these outcomes. The findings demonstrated that a personalized diet and exercise intervention enhances adherence to evidence-based guidelines and positively affects multiple health outcomes in cancer survivors, with no adverse effects from including lean beef in the diet.

Behavioral Interventions in Obesity: What’s New?

This oral session presented six research studies.

Harsharn Gill, BVSc, Ph.D., professor at RMIT University School of Science, spoke about a study which investigated the effect of the AstonRx Program — a dietary and lifestyle modification program incorporating time-restricted eating, nutritional fasting, education, support and strength-based exercise — on biomarkers of metabolic and gut health in healthy overweight adults over four weeks. The results demonstrated that the AstonRx Program significantly improved metabolic health in overweight participants, suggesting the potential for developing personalized dietary and lifestyle recommendations to enhance metabolic health in at-risk individuals.

Ruobin Wei, MPH, RD, clinical research coordinator at Massachusetts General Hospital, discussed her study which conducted a systematic review to estimate adherence to randomized dietary interventions and their weight loss outcomes.

“We all know that rebound happens pretty often in weight loss at first, and then it’s quite often that a lack of dietary adherence is cited as the reason of this rebound,” Wei said. “However, the problem is that only indirect evidence are provided to support these conclusions, and so we really don’t know if adherence is the real issue here.”

It was found that adherence to dietary interventions is generally poorly defined and reported. Indirect evidence from group-level intakes indicates inadequate adherence to macronutrient restrictions and minimal adherence to energy restrictions by the end of the follow-up.

Jennifer Oslund, MS, Ph.D. candidate at the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University, presents her slides titled “Development and Validation of New Questionnaire To Measure Cultural Influences on Dietary Behavior.” (Rachel Kubik / ARC Health and Wellness Community)

Jennifer Oslund, MS, Ph.D. candidate at the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University, discussed research which used factor analysis to develop a new questionnaire aimed at evaluating different aspects of food culture not currently addressed in existing validated questionnaires.

“Food is interesting because not only do we need it to maintain health and life, but it’s a fundamental piece of social and cultural life,” Oslund said. “When we look at what culture is, it’s really this complex thing. It’s multifaceted where there’s these different dimensions of culture.”

Factor analysis identified seven themes for inclusion in this new food culture questionnaire. The resulting cohesive instrument can be used to better understand how aspects of food culture relate to obesity and being overweight, providing a means to quantify factors that were previously unmeasured.

Tsz Kiu Chui, MS, RDN, Ph.D. candidate at The University of Alabama at Birmingham, explored the relationship between perceived and quantitatively defined weight loss maintenance success and its impact on satisfaction with weight loss, leisure time physical activity and exercise identity among U.S. participants in the International Weight Control Registry. Researchers found that participants who perceived themselves as unsuccessful in weight loss maintenance reported dissatisfaction with their weight loss and did not strongly identify as exercisers, even if they had achieved the clinically important threshold of ≥5% weight loss. This perception of “failure” and low satisfaction may lead to disengagement from healthy behaviors and increase the risk of weight regain.

Emily Yeo, MS, Ph.D. student at the University of Colorado Boulder, presents her slides on “Obesity Genetic Risk Scores and Weight Loss in Participants From the Daily Caloric Restriction Versus Intermittent Fasting Trial.” (Rachel Kubik / ARC Health and Wellness Community)

Emily Yeo, MS, Ph.D. student at the University of Colorado Boulder, discussed her aim to examine the associations between obesity genetic risk scores (GRS) and weight loss over a one-year behavioral weight loss intervention, the daily caloric restriction versus intermittent fasting trial.

“The obesity rates globally are pretty alarming. And those trends are just going up and up and up,” Yeo said. “We also know that obesity is a huge health burden and that the causes are largely multifactorial.” 

The results indicated that individuals with elevated obesity GRS experienced greater weight loss during the initial phase of the dietary intervention but were more prone to weight regain during the last six months compared to participants with low obesity GRS.

Ana Palacios, MD, Ph.D., assistant professor at Georgia Southern University, assessed the effectiveness of a comprehensive digital weight management program, WeightWatchers, compared to standard of care (SOC) using resources from MyPlate.gov, focusing on diet quality measured by the Healthy Eating Index-2015 (HEI). The study, “coming right out of the oven,” she said, concluded that participants randomized to WeightWatchers showed significantly greater improvements in HEI scores from baseline to six months compared to those receiving SOC. The findings suggest that the six-month intervention with WeightWatchers effectively enhances diet quality among a diverse population of U.S. adults overweight or living with obesity.

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