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High intake of vegetables is linked to lower white blood cell profile and the effect is mediated by the gut microbiome

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Cristina Menni, Panayiotis Louca, Sarah E. Berry, Amrita Vijay, Stuart Astbury, Emily R. Leeming, Rachel Gibson, Francesco Asnicar, Gianmarco Piccinno, Jonathan Wolf, Richard Davies, Massimo Mangino, Nicola Segata, Tim D. Spector, Ana M. Valdes

Original languageEnglish
Article number37
JournalBMC Medicine
Issue number1
PublishedDec 2021

Bibliographical note

Funding Information: This work was supported by Zoe Global and also received support from grants from the Wellcome Trust (212904/Z/18/Z) and the Medical Research Council (MRC)/British Heart Foundation Ancestry and Biological Informative Markers for Stratification of Hypertension (AIMHY; MR/M016560/1). TwinsUK is funded by the Wellcome Trust, Medical Research Council, European Union, Chronic Disease Research Foundation (CDRF), Zoe Global and the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR)-funded BioResource, Clinical Research Facility and Biomedical Research Centre based at Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust in partnership with King’s College London. CM was supported by the MRC AIMHY grant and by the Chronic Disease Research Foundation. PB was supported by the Chronic Disease Research Foundation. SEB was supported in part by a grant funded by the BBSRC (BB/NO12739/1). NS received support from the European Research Council (ERC-STG project MetaPG), the European H2020 program (ONCOBIOME-825410 project and MASTER-818368 project) and the National Cancer Institute of the National Institutes of Health (1U01CA230551). AMV was supported by the National Institute for Health Research Nottingham Biomedical Research Centre. Publisher Copyright: © 2021, The Author(s). Copyright: Copyright 2021 Elsevier B.V., All rights reserved.

King's Authors


Background: Chronic inflammation, which can be modulated by diet, is linked to high white blood cell counts and correlates with higher cardiometabolic risk and risk of more severe infections, as in the case of COVID-19. Methods: Here, we assessed the association between white blood cell profile (lymphocytes, basophils, eosinophils, neutrophils, monocytes and total white blood cells) as markers of chronic inflammation, habitual diet and gut microbiome composition (determined by sequencing of the 16S RNA) in 986 healthy individuals from the PREDICT-1 nutritional intervention study. We then investigated whether the gut microbiome mediates part of the benefits of vegetable intake on lymphocyte counts. Results: Higher levels of white blood cells, lymphocytes and basophils were all significantly correlated with lower habitual intake of vegetables, with vegetable intake explaining between 3.59 and 6.58% of variation in white blood cells after adjusting for covariates and multiple testing using false discovery rate (q < 0.1). No such association was seen with fruit intake. A mediation analysis found that 20.00% of the effect of vegetable intake on lymphocyte counts was mediated by one bacterial genus, Collinsella, known to increase with the intake of processed foods and previously associated with fatty liver disease. We further correlated white blood cells to other inflammatory markers including IL6 and GlycA, fasting and post-prandial glucose levels and found a significant relationship between inflammation and diet. Conclusion: A habitual diet high in vegetables, but not fruits, is linked to a lower inflammatory profile for white blood cells, and a fifth of the effect is mediated by the genus Collinsella. Trial registration: The registration identifier is NCT03479866.

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