Dr Wendy Russell


Dr Wendy Russell

Dietary Metabolites and Human Health

Nutritional-related disorders such as obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease and certain cancers are emerging as a public health crisis in Scotland. Understanding the balance between diet and human health is vital, if we are to establish evidence for the provision of healthy and sustainable food for all. It is essential that we optimise the nutritional and disease preventative properties of the food we eat, but also that this is achieved by a method that is agriculturally, economically and environmentally viable. To do this effectively, we must; understand the complexity of the human diet, availability of compounds from the food matrix, how these are absorbed and transformed in the body and the overall impact on human health.

To implement these strategies, we are working with food growers and producers, agriculture and environmental scientists, the food industry, health professionals and policy makers.

Wild and heritage crops video

Understanding the complexity of the whole diet: It is important that the diet delivers adequate nutrition as well as preventing certain diet-related diseases. Our analysis of the diet considers the major macronutrients (carbohydrate, protein and fat), micronutrient minerals and vitamins, as well as the non-nutrient phytochemicals that are considered to be beneficial for health. Using a targeted quantitative metabolomics approach we analyse the major secondary metabolites and in particular we assess their availability from the food matrix. This work involves the provision of standards and my research programme also includes the synthesis, isolation and characterization of natural products.

Assessing the bioavailability and metabolism of phytochemicals: We have shown that certain metabolites are bio-available systemically, by absorption early in the GI tract, whereas others are available in the colon where they are metabolised and have important direct effects on gut health. One major research focus is to identify the molecular transformations of bioactive phytochemicals in the gut and in collaboration with Sylvia Duncan and Harry Flint (Gut Heath Group; RINH), the bacteria responsible. We have elucidated key bio-transformations and have a particularly interest in carbohydrate and protein metabolism.

Determining the bioactivity of phytochemicals: Having identified the bio-available components of the diet allows us to assess the bioactivity of the in vivo forms at relevant concentrations. My particular research interest is in the effect of phytochemical dietary metabolites on inflammation. We have shown that phytochemicals can inhibit the production of neoplastic prostanoids in vitro and current work involves their regulation of other important endogenous bioactive lipids.

Recognising the metabolic phenotype for different population groups and impact of dietary modulation: Understanding the human metabolic phenotype (the metabotype) will allow us to assess the specific contribution of diet on the metabolites produced in the body and their translated effect on general health. My recent work has demonstrated significant changes in the metabolome of obese subjects with dietary interventions involving modulation of carbohydrate and protein. Current research includes establishing the metabolome for normal weight low fruit and vegetable consumers (typical Scottish diet) and type 2 diabetics. Interventions in these groups include consuming an advised; ‘five-a-day’ diet, important Scottish crops and supplementation with anti-inflammatory plant-based extracts.

Health impacts of sustainable ingredient selection in the food and drink industry

The Scottish food and drink industry faces many challenges, but one of the main concerns relates to food security. Climate change, increased fuel costs, and changing demographics all add to this uncertainty. However, the industry still needs to be able to provide affordable, acceptable and nutritious food. This programme is examining how well Scottish sourced plant proteins can contribute to the human diet in terms of nutritional value and physiological effect. The focus of this work is on replacing or augmenting traditional sources of protein in normal, healthy, balanced diets read more.

  • FHIS with Heather Hills (£4,992; 2013-2014) Potential health benefits of heather-based honey.
  • Tenovus (£9,497; 2012-2014): Do synthetic folic acid and natural methylated foaltes at concentrations found in blood post-fortification, influence genomic stability and malignant transformation differently in human colon cells in vitro?
  • FHIS with IQ Ingredients (£5,000; 2012-2013): Development of a Healthier Chocolate
  • Kellogg’s (Euro 50,000; 2011-2012): Novel Bioactives from Wheat Bran
  • Scottish Government Food Land and People Programme (2011-2016): Efficient and resilient supply chains for food.
  • Scottish Government Strategic Partnership (2012-2016): Healthy and Sustainable Ingredients for the food industry.
  • RESAS-Underpinning Capacity Studentship; (2012-2016): Plant protein food products for the future.
  • University of Aberdeen; Energy and Food Security Theme Studentship; (2013-2017): Rice: balancing sustainable agricultural production methods, cultivar diversity with nutrient content and contaminant levels. 
  • RESAS-Underpinning Capacity Studentship; (2013-2017): Identification and characterisation of bioactivity traits relative to phytochemical metabolite composition within underutilised, edible Northern Scotland flora.
  • Rank Prize Fund Studentship (2010-2013): Do synthetic folic acid and natural methylated folates, at concentrations found in human plasma post-fortification, influence genomic stability and malignant transformation differently in human colon cell in vitro?
  • University of Aberdeen; CSLM Studentship(2011-2014): Diet, DNA stability and colon cancer: how phytophenols in the human diet prevent malignant transformation.

Recent Primary Publications

Russell, W.R., Duncan, S.H., Scobbie, L., Duncan, G., Cantlay, L., Calder, A.G., Anderson S.E. and Flint H.J. (2013) Major phenylpropanoid-derived metabolites in the human gut can arise from microbial fermentation of protein. Molecular Nutrition and Food Research 57(3): 523-35.  

Neacsu M., McMonagle, J., Fletcher, R.J., Scobbie L.,Duncan G.J., Cantlay, L., de Roos, B., Duthie G.G. and Russell, W.R. (2013) Availability of fibre-related phytophenols from ready-to-eat cereals: Comparison with other plant-based foods Food Chemistry141(3):2880-6.

Hoggard, N., Cruickshank, M., Moar, K.M., Bestwick, C.S., Holst, J., Russell, W.R. and Horgan G. (2013) A single supplement of a standardised bilberry extract (36% (w/w) anthocyanins) modifies glycaemic response in persons with Type 2 Diabetes controlled by diet and lifestyle. Journal of Nutritional Science (In press)

Duthie, G.G., Campbell, F, Bestwick, C.S., Stephen, S. and Russell, W.R. (2013) Antioxidant Effectiveness of Vegetable Powders on the Lipid and Protein Oxidative Stability of Cooked Turkey Meat Patties: Implications for Health. Nutrients5(4): 1241-1252.

Moreno-Navarrete, J.M., Catalán, V. Whyte,L.,  Díaz-Arteaga, A., Vázquez-Martínez, R., Rotellar, F., Guzmán, R., Gómez-Ambrosi, J., Pulido, M.R., Russell, W.R.,Imbernón, M., Ross, R.A., Malagón, M.M., Dieguez, C., Fernández-Real, J.M., Frühbeck G. and Nogueiras R. (2012) The L-α-lysophosphatidylinositol/GPR55 system and its potential role in human Obesity. Diabetes 61:281-291

Russell, W.R. Gratz, S.W., Duncan S.H., Holtrop, G., Ince, J., Scobbie, L. Duncan, G. Johnstone, A.M., Lobley, G.E., Wallace, R.J., Duthie G.G. and Flint, H.J. (2011) High protein, reduced carbohydrate weight loss diets promote metabolite profiles likely to be detrimental to colonic health American Journal of Clinical Nutrition  93 (5):1062-1072

Additional Responsibilities

Recent Reviews

Russell, W.R., Duncan, S.H and Flint H.J. (2013) The Gut Microbial Metabolome: Modulation of Cancer Risk in Obese Individuals Proceedings of the Nutrition Society 72(1):178-88

Russell, W.R., Hoyles L.Flint H.J. and Dumas M. (2013) Colonic bacterial metabolites and human health. Current Opinion in Microbiology16(3):246-54.

Russell, W.R. and Duncan, S.H (2013)Advanced analytical methodologies to study the microbial metabolome. Trends in Analytical Chemistry (In press)

Russell, W.R., Baka, A., Björck, I., Delzenne, N., Gao, D., Griffiths, H.R., Hadjilucas, E., Juvonen, K., Lahtinen, S., Lansink, M., van Loon, L., Mykkänen, H., Östman, E., Riccardi, G., Vinoy, S. and Weickert, M.O. (2013) Impact of diet composition on blood glucose regulation. Critical Reviews in Food Science (In Press)

Recent Book Chapters

Russell, W.R. and Duthie G.G. Plant secondary metabolites and gut health: the case for phenolic acids (2011) Proceedings of the Nutrition Society 70(3):389-96

Russell, W.R. and Duncan, S.H (2013) MS-based methodologies to study the microbial metabolome in Foodomics; John Wiley & Sons, Inc Hoboken, New Jersey.