Plant-based diets, adaptation to physiological stress, and health

Consumption of plant-based foods such as fruit, vegetables and cereals is linked to decreased risk for heart disease, cancer, and diseases related to ageing.

My research explores the health benefits of plant-based foods through nutritional studies in human volunteers and laboratory experiments to examine their effect in real-life situations and their specific actions on health. We have recently completed a study, exploring Scottish soft fruit consumption on heart and gut health.

By forming strong links between our diet, plants and health, my research can assist the agricultural and food industry in improving the nutritional quality of crops and developing healthy foods. 

Research focus

Cellular adaptation to physiological stress and maintenance of cellular homeostasis is critical for cell survival and physiological outcome, where adaptation strategies produce a spectrum of cellular fate ranging from cell recovery to death. This process is compromised early in the development of diseases relevant to metabolic, cardiovascular and gut health. Indeed, emerging and compelling evidence implicates sustained maladaptive responses to cellular stress as a direct and early contributor to metabolic dysfunction.

The health benefits of plant-based foods may be partly attributed to their content of bioactive compounds such as phytochemicals. These have been reported to have anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties by research in vitro and in animal models. Since these mechanisms of action are largely integrated within the adaptive response to cellular stress, it can be hypothesised that phytochemicals may be protective by contributing to the reprogramming of cells and improving their adaptive responses to physiological stress.

There is a need for strong evidence for the benefits of physiologically relevant phytochemicals to human health and robust clinical data on their biological efficacy. The aim of my research programme is to identify links between plant-based diets and health, where I am using basic and translational research approaches to understand possible therapeutic benefits of phytochemicals in humans. In this role, I am leading and managing acute and chronic randomised controlled dietary intervention trials in volunteers to identify the benefits of plant diets on cardiovascular and gut health. In addition, I am measuring the effects of plant bioactives on gene expression in cell culture systems, specifically on the adaptive physiological responses to cellular stress mechanisms which underlie the development of obesity, diabetes, and cardiovascular diseases.

Research objectives

  1. To compare the ability of bioactive compounds within plant-based foods, including those of Scottish origin, to influence adaptive responses to cellular stress
  2. To identify their mechanisms of action in improving cellular function and health
  • RESAS (Scottish Government, 2011-2016) Work package 7.2 Healthy and safe diets – Role of dietary bioactives in cellular function
  • RESAS (Scottish Government, 2011-2016) Work package 5.2 Efficient and resilient supply chains for food – Role of dietary bioactives in human health

Rungapamestry, V., McMonagle, J., Reynolds, C., Rucklidge, G., Reid, M., Duncan, G., Ross, K., Horgan, G., Toomey, S., Moloney, A., de Roos, B., Roche, H. (2012) “Inter-organ proteomic analysis reveals insights into the molecular mechanisms underlying the anti-diabetic effects of cis-9, trans-11-conjugated linoleic acid in ob/ob mice.”  Proteomics, 12 (3) pp.461-476

De Roos, B., Rungapamestry, V., Ross, K., Rucklidge, G., Reid, M., Duncan, G., Horgan, G., Toomey, S., Browne, J., Loscher, C.E., Mills, K.H.G., Roche, H.M. (2009) “Attenuation of inflammation and cellular stress-related pathways maintains insulin sensitivity in obese type I interleukin-1 receptor knockout mice on a high-fat diet.” Proteomics, 9 (2) pp. 3244-3256

Rungapamestry, V., Duncan, A., Fuller, Z., Ratcliffe, B. (2008) “Influence of blanching and freezing broccoli (Brassica oleracea var. italica) prior to storage and cooking on glucosinolate concentrations and myrosinase activity.” European Food Research and Technology, 227 (1) pp. 37-44

Rungapamestry, V., Rabot, S., Fuller, Z., Ratcliffe, B., Duncan, A. (2008) “Influence of cooking duration of cabbage and presence of colonic microbiota on the excretion of N-acetylcysteine conjugates of allyl isothiocyanate and bioactivity of phase 2 enzymes in F344 rats.” British Journal of Nutrition, 99 (4) pp. 773-778

Fuller, Z., Louis, P., Mihajlovski, A., Rungapamestry, V., Ratcliffe, B., (2007) “Influence of cabbage processing methods and prebiotic manipulation of colonic microflora on glucosinolate breakdown in man.” British Journal of Nutrition, 98 (2) pp.364-372

Rungapamestry, V., Duncan, A., Fuller, Z., Ratcliffe, B. (2007) “Effect of meal composition and cooking duration on the fate of sulforaphane following consumption of broccoli by healthy human subjects.” British Journal of Nutrition, 97 (4) pp. 644-652


Additional activities

Research brief for Knowledge Scotland Website

Nutrients, bioactive compounds, and immune function

Additional responsibilities

Member, College of Life Sciences and Medicine Ethics Review Board, University of Aberdeen