The current Nutrition Studies Research was built on a foundation of two decades of nutrition-related research, beginning with pioneering work in the 1960s by Dr. John Farquhar on obesity, diet, diabetes, and lipid metabolism. Along with Dr. Gerald Reaven, Dr. Farquhar discovered the basis of type 2 diabetes mellitus as insulin resistance resulting in part from obesity. In the past 30 years research on the inter-relationships of obesity, exercise, nutrition, and lipid metabolism has formed an important component of the SPRC research program and has resulted in major advances in our understanding of these issues.
The current nutrition research has taken on a new direction, focusing more directly on nutrition intervention studies. The current mission of this evolving program is to expand nutrition research beyond traditional nutrients (e.g. macronutrients, vitamins, and minerals) to focus more on dietary patterns (e.g., vegetarian diets, antioxidant-rich diets) and phytochemicals (e.g., garlic, phytoestrogens, ginkgo biloba), and beyond traditional outcome measures (e.g. cholesterol) to include more recently-established risk factors for disease (e.g., C-reactive protein, and inflammatory markers). Dietary strategies for weight loss are also a topic of research interest. Collaborators in the nutrition research program include Philip Tsao, Ph.D., cardiovascular medicine, John P. Cooke, M.D., vascular biology and cardiovascular medicine; David Feldman, M.D., endocrinology and cancer markers and mechanisms. Off-campus collaborators include Larry Lawson, Ph.D., Plant Bioactives Institute, Orem UT , and Eric Block, Ph.D., State University of New York at Albany.
Putting the Puzzle Together
Optimal diets have an obvious and critical role in decreasing the burden of preventable chronic degenerative disease that is crippling the health care system and dramatically lowering the quality of lives. Defining and achieving optimal dietary practices is extremely challenging in the context of a food environment that is as fast-paced and complex as ours has become. Rigorous nutrition science is an essential component of the solution. Nutrition science encompasses everything from mechanisms of action established through molecular and cell biology, to epidemiological comparisons of different disease rates in different countries associated with different cultural eating habits – each of the approaches can provide important pieces of the puzzle, but no single approach provides all the pieces.
The REAL Difference
As we see it, the most impactful type of nutrition science involves having real people in the real world eat real food and experience a real difference in their health and wellness. Human nutrition intervention studies are highly impactful, and at the same time among the most challenging types of studies to conduct (e.g., recruitment, adherence, retention). Most human nutrition studies involve a trade-off of rigor and generalizability:
- The most rigorous studies are done under tightly controlled conditions with small numbers of participants for short periods of time with very limited generalizability.
- The most generalizable studies are done with large groups of people for long periods of time which tends to limit the amount of control and rigor that can be exerted, which can limit the significance of the findings.