April 26, 2022

McCaig Institute Trainee Feature: Hannah Smith

Exploring the positive effects of nutrition on musculoskeletal health
Hannah Smith
Image provided by Hannah Smith

A healthy diet can help fuel our muscles for exercise and maintain our musculoskeletal system, but can nutrition help prevent muscle degeneration? Hannah Smith, a biomedical engineering master’s student in Dr. Walter Herzog’s biomechanics lab, is studying the effects of introducing a fibre-rich dietary intervention in preventing musculoskeletal (MSK) degeneration in a pre-clinical model of diet-induced obesity.

“Growing up as a competitive swimmer, I developed a keen awareness and interest of how exercise and nutrition can lead to positive health outcomes,” explains Smith. “With my interests and the rising prevalence of obesity, I wanted to focus my research on how we can use nutrition and exercise as medicine in obesity-related diseases."

Her research interests led her to pursue a project in Dr. Herzog’s lab, building on findings that show that a fibre-rich diet can prevent MSK degeneration focusing on the impacts of dietary interventions on muscle in diseases like sarcopenia and osteoarthritis. Using a pre-clinical rat model of diet-induced obesity by issuing a high fat/high sucrose diet, she analyzes the effects of introducing a high-fibre diet intervention (pre-biotic fibre supplement) by observing protective effects on muscle degeneration to determine the effectiveness of various timelines for dietary intervention.

Fibre intervention is critical as it affects gut health and can reduce systemic inflammation levels. “The gut is an important part of maintaining overall health and keeping a healthy gut is key to achieving positive outcomes,” explains Smith. “For example, a high sucrose and fat diet promotes bad bacteria that can increase inflammation within the body, but implementing a high fibre diet helps feed the gut to promote healthy bacteria and reduces inflammation which is associated with reduced muscle degeneration.”

Hannah hopes that her pre-clinical research can eventually develop into a clinical model to explore using dietary intervention as a treatment option to improve outcomes in musculoskeletal diseases.

Hannah Smith is a master’s student in the biomedical engineering graduate program at the University of Calgary and she is the 2021 recipient of the Dr. Cy Frank Trainee Award in Nutrition for Bone, Joint, and Muscle Health presented by the McCaig Institute for Bone and Joint Health.

Learn more about research at the McCaig Institute for Bone and Joint Health.