Food chemistry and human health

Richard Mithen

Prof. Richard Mithen

Research Leader

Food chemistry and human health


Our main research focus is into how sulphur-containing food-derived metabolites modulate human metabolism to maintain and promote health. This is based on substantial epidemiological and experimental studies that have associated diets rich in brassica and allium vegetables with a reduction in the risk of chronic diseases, such as cancer at several sites, cardiovascular disease and age related cognitive decline.

We seek to provide evidence-based dietary advice to the general population, and specifically for men with early stage prostate cancer.  In addition, we seek to develop new food products with enhanced health promoting properties, as well as providing insights for the development of new therapeutic agents to prevent aggressive forms of prostate cancer.

Brassica and allium vegetables are important sources of specialized sulphur-containing metabolites such as glucosinolates and S-alkyl cysteine sulfoxides, which may benefit our health through a variety of mechanisms such as reduction in chronic inflammation, enhancement of metabolic homeostasis and energy expenditure, modulation of cellular redox status and protection of tissue from neoplastic transformation.

In our research, we have sought to manipulate the levels and structural forms of these metabolites in crop species, to understand how these compounds, and their gut-microbial derivatives, are absorbed and metabolised within humans, and how they interact with cellular processes to maintain and promote health. We have a particular interest in the role of these metabolites in preventing the occurrence and progression of prostate cancer, and work closely with clinical colleagues to undertake intervention studies with men who have early stage prostate cancer.

We have developed new food products with enhanced levels of specific S-containing metabolites and used these in a series of human intervention studies to understand the pharmacokinetics and metabolism of these compounds, and to test specific hypotheses concerning their mode of action.

Much of this research has involved analyses of human blood, urine and biopsy tissues in which we study global changes in the metabolome and transcriptome, in addition to analyses of specific metabolite and gene expression targets. Our human studies are complemented with research using model systems in which we can explore, at a more detailed level, changes in cellular metabolism.

Our Targets

Targeting cancer


Targeting Cardiovascular Disease

Cardiovascular Disease

Targeting food composition

Food Composition

Targeting Future Foods

Future Foods

Targeting IBD

Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD)

Targeting liver disease

Liver/lipid disease

Targeting personalised nutrition

Personalised Nutrition

Targeting the understanding of the microbiome

Understanding the Microbiome

Related News