Nutrition, Ageing and Health

Lead Research Organisation: MRC Human Nutrition Research Group


We aim to understand how nutrition can improve health in older people. We are trying to find the best treatment for obesity and the diseases that are closely related with obesity such as high blood pressure, diabetes or coronary heart disease (CHD).
We will use advanced research methods to identify subjects at greater risk for these diseases by measuring precisely how much fat and muscle they have in their body. We will then test how specific nutritional factors such as vitamin C or inorganic nitrate can modify the risk of vascular and metabolic diseases by changing the amount of nitric oxide produced in the body. Nitric oxide is a substance extremely important for the control of several important functions including blood pressure, disposal of blood sugar and inflammation. We believe that what we eat can change the concentrations of nitric oxide in the body and therefore be useful to reduce the risk for important cardiovascular and metabolic diseases.
This research will help to improve the treatment of important diseases such as high blood pressure, diabetes and CHD in older subjects.

Technical Summary

The Nutrition Ageing and Health (NAH) Programme at MRC Human Nutrition Research was established in September 2014, and is led by Dr Mario Siervo.

Aims and Objectives
The overarching aim is to investigate, in older aged populations, the link between nutrition and cardiovascular and metabolic health to improve lifelong health. The specific objectives are:

1) To investigate the role of body composition phenotypes to advance the assessment of nutritional status, improve risk prediction and management of cardiovascular and metabolic diseases in older aged subjects (Theme 1: Ageing and Body Composition Phenotypes)
2) To develop nutritional interventions targeting the nitric oxide (NO) pathway to modify vascular and metabolic health (Theme 2: Nitric Oxide (NO) Pathway and Vascular Ageing)

Research Strategy
The NAH programme will adopt an integrated, cross-disciplinary approach to explore the specific research questions outlined in Theme 1 and Theme 2. Theme 1 will involve analyses based on epidemiological datasets from Europe and the USA to assess the sensitivity of body composition phenotypes, such as sarcopenic obesity, for the prediction of future risk for cardiovascular and metabolic diseases in older subjects. A deep-phenotyping approach will also be utilised to assess the physiological characteristics of the sarcopenic obesity phenotype including the assessment of in vivo whole-body NO production and insulin sensitivity. Theme 2 will be involve investigation of the effects of nutritional interventions targeting the NO pathway, such as inorganic nitrate, arginine or vitamin C, to modify endothelial function and impact on cardiovascular and metabolic risk. A specific focus of the NAH programme is to investigate whether ageing modifies the effects of nutritional interventions on cardiovascular and metabolic functions.
Epidemiological analyses of existing prospective cohort studies and clinical studies (non-randomised and randomised) will be conducted to test the association between nutritional factors and physiological outcomes of vascular and metabolic health (i.e., blood pressure, flow mediated dilation, insulin sensitivity, inflammation), body composition (i.e., fat mass, lean body mass, total body water), energy expenditure and mitochondrial function.

The stratified medicine approach adopted by the NAH research programme will inform the development of more effective nutritional interventions for the management of obesity in older aged subjects and prevention/reversal of age-related decline of vascular and metabolic functions.