The 20092011 project titled 'Cereal fibre consumption and vascular function in overweight individuals' examined the effect of a wholegrain diet on the vascular function of 17 males from the age of 40 to 65 over a 12-week period.
The literature review in year one demonstrated that wholegrain cereal products give the greatest protection against cardiovascular disease, compared with the combination of refined and wholegrain cereals. The protective effects of wholegrains are likely to originate from the synergistic action of compounds contained within wholegrain cereals, including fibre, but also a number of other bioactive components.
The human intervention study in year two aimed to investigate the effect of integrating the diet with three servings (48g) of wholegrain per day on flow mediated dilation (FMD) over a 12-week period. The secondary objective was to assess the correlation between FMD measurements and other markers of cardiovascular function.
"The key idea was to take a sample of the population with risk factors for cardiovascular disease and give them three daily servings of wholegrain to see if following US dietary guidelines would benefit them in a short- to medium-term," said Sarah Kuczora, nutritionist, nutrition research at Leatherhead.
The findings indicate a significant association between FMD and two markers of inflammation (tumour necrosis factor- and c-reactive protein), diastolic blood pressure and cholesterol: HDL ratio.
Kuczora believes this association would help manufacturers to carry out significant trials to support any health claims they want to make. This would enable them to gather scientific evidence in line with the requirements of the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA).
"It centres around the link between the blood biomarkers, which appear to be associated with the FMB," said Kuczora. "It's early research and it's not been investigated before but significant associations would be a real help."
FMD is not something that's been measured widely in terms of wholegrain research but now EFSA has approved it as a biomarker for vascular function. The study introduces manufacturers to the idea of FMD, which enables them to carry out more low-cost studies, according to Kuczora.
"Part of this research intended to reduce the costs of trials by using cheaper blood biomarkers and if you see a positive impact, you can design a study," she said.
"Wholegrain is still an interesting area to research it's just a case of finding the right study design," said Kuczora. "No claims have been approved for fibre and wholegrain and vascular function. There are a few surrounding beta-glucan and cholesterol, but it's a limited area."
For manufacturers, it's all about knowing EFSA's requirements and having a firmly designed protocol. All of this increases the chance of getting health claims approval.