Smarter Lives is funded by New Zealand’s Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment and is led by New Zealand research institute, AgResearch. It will investigate how foods influence brain function via the sophisticated communication systems between the gut and the brain.
More than NZ$12m (US$8.75m) has been earmarked for the research.
The project, 'Smarter Lives: New opportunities for dairy products across the lifespan', is focused on how foods can influence brain performance via the ''gut-brain axis.''
The research is being carried out in collaboration with Fonterra, the Riddet Institute, The University of Auckland's Centre for Brain Research, Australia's Flinders University, Ireland's University College Cork, and the University of Illinois in the US.
More work needed
Fonterra’s programme manager nutrition and health, James Dekker, noted the gut is sometimes referred to as ‘the second brain’, and the Smarter Lives research program will help to explore this.
“There has been a significant amount of research into the role of dairy ingredients in cognition and gut health. However, more work is needed to understand the gut-brain axis and what this means for paediatric nutrition,” Dekker said.
“For example, we know ingredients like NZMP SureStart Lipid 100 may offer both digestive health and cognition benefits, but we don’t fully understand how these two functions correlate.
“Another study has found levels of good gut bacteria were increased in formula fed infants consuming SureStart BifidoB 019, showing the ingredient’s effect on gut microbiota. However, we don’t completely understand how ingredients like SureStart BifidoB 019 impact behaviors and cognition.”
The gut-brain axis
Dekker said there is a vast network of neurons, called the enteric nervous system, that line the gut.
Research has found a direct line of two-way communication exists between the brain and the enteric nervous system. This means that influences on the gut and its functions, such as diet, can impact signals sent to the brain.