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Taking a ‘One Health’ approach to better gut health [Interview]

Article-Taking a ‘One Health’ approach to better gut health [Interview]

© Vitafoods Insights Taking a ‘One Health’ approach to better gut health [Interview]
The 'One Health' approach considers human wellbeing in a connected and holistic manner. We speak to Yakult’s Dr Olaf Larsen on how maintaining a healthy gut microbiome fits into this approach; how to effectively run clinical trials; and the rationale behind targeted nutritional interventions.

Increased incidences of certain diseases, newly emerging infections, and the harrowing experiences of the Covid-19 pandemic have placed health under the microscope as never before. This in turn has led to growing interest in the One Health approach, which considers human wellbeing in a more connected and holistic manner.

“For a long time, we tended to think of our health only in the context of taking care of ourselves,” says Dr Olaf Larsen, who heads up the science department at Yakult Netherlands. “We now know that this is only part of the truth. The One Health approach acknowledges that our wellbeing also depends on having a healthy relationship with the surrounding environment. This means taking into account animal, plant, soil and water ecosystems, which all influence our health.”

Nutritional interventions to stimulate beneficial gut microbes

This concept informs Larsen’s research into the gut microbiome. “In order to maintain healthy microbial content in the gut, we need to be exposed – in a beneficial way – to all these adjacent ecosystems,” he explains. “This facilitates the beneficial exchange of certain organisms between us and the environment.”

In his presentation at Vitafoods Europe, Larsen will note that while vaccinations and increased hygiene standards have helped to reduce incidences of certain diseases, a rise in autoimmune disorders has been recorded. This has at least been partly caused by diminished exposure to beneficial microbes, and is especially serious in early life, when our immune systems are being trained up. “There is also evidence that changes in gut microbiota is making people more susceptible to disease and worsening their progression,” he adds.

Larsen’s research also confirms that nutritional interventions can stimulate beneficial microbes in the gut. This can be taken in the form of fermented foods, high-fibre content foods, or supplements and products that stimulate or contain prebiotics.

One recent trial, for example, tested the impact of a Yakult fermented milk drink containing Lactobacillus casei Shirota on a group of elderly people in a nursing home. The results were positive, demonstrating improved gut health, and thus improved quality of life among a fragile section of the population.

“We then carried out a follow-up study to demonstrate the business case,” says Larsen. “Taking into account the medication and personnel costs involved in dealing with digestive problems, we were able to show the cost benefits, as well as quality-of-life benefits, of probiotic intervention.”

Optimised nutrition and accurate clinical trials

A key focus of Larsen’s presentation will be on the importance of optimising nutritional intake through life to maintain gut health. He notes that a one-size-fits-all approach is likely to work at the beginning, but as we get older, more personalised approaches will be needed. This is in part due to our very personal and different interactions with our environments.

Larsen will also provide insights and advice on running effective clinical trials. A key finding from his research has been ensuring that intra-individual variations within cohorts are kept to a minimum. This means being strict, so that not only people within a specific cohort meet certain criteria, but that they stick to the prescribed diet or exercise plans. This is critical to ensure accurate and useful results when it comes to nutritional interventions.

Larsen studied chemistry at the VU University Amsterdam, before obtaining a PhD in biophysics. Following postdoctoral research in New York City and Amsterdam, he continued his career within industry.

Since 2012 he has headed up the science department at Yakult Netherlands, and is also a part-time professor at the VU University. His key area of research focus is on One Health in relation to microbiota management. His presentation, entitled ‘One health: gut microbiota management towards healthy ageing’, will be delivered during a session at the Vitafoods Europe 2024 Conference Theatre, under the immune and gut health theme.