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Approved Research

Causal pathways linking diet, nutrition and cardiometabolic diseases

Principal Investigator: Dr Christine Delon
Approved Research ID: 77447
Approval date: January 26th 2022

Lay summary

Cardiovascular diseases (CVD), such as strokes and heart attacks, cause millions of deaths every year across the world. Factors such as high blood pressure, high blood sugar, high body weight and smoking can increase CVD risk. Therefore, treating these risk factors could reduce CVD disease and death. Individual risk factors for CVD often influence each other. For example, obesity is associated with increased blood pressure, reduced response to insulin and disrupted cholesterol, all of which contribute to CVD risk.

Diet can influence several risk factors for CVD, as such, it can be a very cost-effective tool for CVD prevention and treatment. Similar to other factors related to CVD, nutrients consumed as a part of individual's diets interact among themselves and also with different processes in the body that contribute to CVD risk. For example, consumption of diets that are rich in fibre can have a beneficial impact on blood glucose and cholesterol levels. Understanding which nutrients or particular diets are the cause of changes observed in CVD risk is essential to inform guidelines and practices in CVD prevention and management and therefore have important public health value.

Establishing whether particular diets or nutrients are the cause of CVD would traditionally require researchers to randomly assign individuals to particular types of diets however, this is not always feasible or practical in nutrition research, particularly in the CVD domain. For instance, it can take several years before CVD outcomes can be directly measured. Observing the occurrence of CVD among a group of individuals is an alternative strategy but it also has some limitations. Using new ways to analyse observational information, using tools borrowed from the causal inference thinking, can help to address some of these limitations. Therefore, the overall aim of this project is use tools from causal inference to disentangle the relative importance of particular dietary factors on CVD risk, but also the connections and pathways between nutrients and diets and CVD risk.