Influence of nutrition and functional food on health parameters (Internal research program).

Duration of the project:

1.10.2022 – 30.9.2026

Lead partner:

University of Primorska, Faculty of Health Sciences


Assoc. Prof. Zala Jenko Pražnikar (SICRIS, ResearchGate)


Assist. Prof. Ana Petelin (SICRIS, ResearchGate)
Assist. Prof. Saša Kenig (SICRIS, ResearchGate)
Assist. Katja Bezek (SICRIS, ResearchGate)
Assist. Tadeja Jakus (SICRIS, ResearchGate)
Assist. Katja Kramberger (SICRIS, ResearchGate)
Assist. Karin Novak (SICRIS, ResearchGate)


Obesity and overweight are major public health problems. In both conditions, individuals have elevated levels of inflammatory markers in plasma and are more susceptible to oxidative stress. Because of low-grade chronic systemic inflammation and lower antioxidant potential, metabolic complications, insulin resistance, type 2 diabetes, and cardiovascular disease are much more common in this population.

Within the program group, research will be conducted in two directions that complement each other and contribute to the understanding of the influence of diet on the development and management of obesity, metabolic syndrome, and related adverse health conditions. In the first part, we will use cross-sectional studies to attempt to identify novel biomarkers of obesity and the metabolic syndrome. We will focus on biomarkers that are already detected when only one component of the metabolic syndrome is present. We will also pay particular attention to the gut microbial community and the integrity of the gut wall. In addition to identifying various sensitive biomarkers, we will also look at risk factors for the development of metabolic disorders. We will focus on the type of diet, sensory perception of food, micro- and macronutrient intake, and other environmental factors. In the second part, we will investigate the effects of different functional foods using intervention studies. For the intervention studies, we will select plants and herbs that are typical of the Mediterranean environment. Our goal is twofold: in addition to the health effects, we are also interested in the suitability of the bioactive compounds of the rich plants for cultivation in the local environment. Through our research, we aim to find out which plant species/subspecies have the most biologically beneficial effects and how this is influenced by, for example, harvest timing. In this way, we contribute to the optimization of growing conditions and the production of products that are based on scientific knowledge and have a higher added value. Both cross-sectional and intervention studies are complemented by various mechanistic studies on cellular models.

The main objectives of the program are: 1) identification of early biomarkers of metabolic syndrome; 2) identification of factors contributing to the development of obesity and metabolic syndrome; 3) investigation of the mechanisms by which diet may influence the development of metabolic syndrome; 4) investigation of the contribution of gut microbial communities to the development of obesity, metabolic syndrome and individual other health-related factors; 5) Selection and characterization of Mediterranean plants (at the level of genome, transcriptome, metabolome) that have the potential to treat obesity and metabolic syndrome; 6) Preparation (also using the principles of “green” chemistry) and characterization of plant extracts (metabolome, antioxidant potential); 7) Development of functional foods that could contribute to weight loss, improve lipid profile and reduce chronic inflammation. To achieve all these objectives, we will conduct a series of cross-sectional and intervention studies, use various anthropometric methods to analyze health indicators, and a series of biochemical and molecular methods to analyze serum markers. We will determine the gut microbial community from a stool sample by DNA sequencing. We will strive to use and establish advanced methods, from “green” chemistry for the preparation of plant extracts, to transcriptomics and metabolomics methods, to the analysis of cellular components using the FTIR method.


 The internal program group is financed from the Rector’s UP Fund.