Ārepa and the gut-brain axis

Public Summary

Principal investigators: Dr Nicola Gillies
Industry partner: Angus Brown, Ārepa
High-Value Nutrition funding:


Unlocking the potential of polyphenols: A novel approach to target the gut-brain axis


High-Value Nutrition is supporting new research to examine the impacts of blackcurrant-based brain food on biomarkers in the gut-brain axis – the communication network that connects the gut and the brain.

This project is led by Dr Nicola Gillies at the University of Auckland in collaboration with industry partner Ārepa (Angus Brown, CEO and Professor Andrew Scholey, CSO). Ārepa produces a range of blackcurrant-based brain food.

There is growing awareness that gut health is linked to virtually all aspects of human health, from digestive function to metabolic health, immunity, cognition, and mental wellbeing. At the same time, functional gut disorders are on the rise and thought to result from disturbances to the gut-brain axis. 

Interest in gut health is booming, and while gut health foods are a $70billion market, there’s still a demand for functional foods and beverages with health claims underpinned by robust scientific evidence.

Three-month trial to monitor impacts

HVN will support Ārepa to extend and complement the existing science built on their patented formula. Dr Gillies and her research team will recruit 40 healthy females to participate in a three-month randomised, double-blind cross-over trial. This trial will monitor the impacts that daily consumption of the Ārepa beverage have on markers of the gut-brain axis compared to drinking a placebo.

The Ārepa formula has the potential to provide additive benefits along the gut-brain axis. The Neuroberry® blackcurrant cultivar used in the Ārepa formula is unique to Aotearoa and is particularly rich in anthocyanins. Anthocyanins are thought to have a proliferative effect on ‘good’ gut bacteria, yet research in humans has been limited to date. Other plant-derived bio-actives in the Ārepa formula are known to target stress, anxiety, cognition, and sleep – all of which can have beneficial effects on the gut microbiota and vice versa. 

This research will provide insight into links between the gut microbiome, blood markers, neurocognitive responses and diet. The researchers aim to determine whether daily consumption of the Ārepa performance beverage has a prebiotic effect, improving the gut microbiota composition and its predicted function. This research also aims to tease apart the role of the gut microbiota in mediating the known neurocognitive benefits of Ārepa, which will inform and advance future research on Ārepa and anthocyanins more broadly.

Growing scientific knowledge to deliver nutritious food to the world

HVN and Ārepa both share the mission of growing the knowledge that Aotearoa needs to deliver food to the world in a manner that enhances health and wellbeing. This project upholds the Vision Mātauranga strategy of HVN, aligning with the theme of Hauora/Health by offering an innovative and holistic approach to improving health and wellbeing, and acknowledging that mental and physical health cannot be separated from one another.

This project aligns with the HVN mission to develop high-value foods with validated health benefits to drive economic growth. With robust evidence to underpin marketing and health claims, we anticipate that research outcomes will broaden Ārepa’s target market and export opportunities. 

First to market with a gut-brain axis claim

There are very limited functional food and beverage products in the current market that focus on the gut-brain axis that offer a dual effect.This research will also support the development of new products targeting the gut-brain axis, allowing Ārepa to be one of the first to market with a gut-brain axis claim to its range.

HVN brings together a dedicated industry partner and multi-disciplinary research team with expertise in investigating complex food-gut-health interactions, promoting innovation and leadership in the science of food and health relationships from Aotearoa.



Research team

Dr Nicola Gilles

Angus Brown

Angus Brown is the CEO and co-founder of Ārepa, a brain-food technology company working at the nexus between nature, neuroscience and food technology to make the worlds smartest food, his goal is to build a world-leading billion-dollar health food company out of Aotearoa New Zealand exporting high-value, clinically validated functional brain food.

Before Ārepa, Angus was the Business Manager at The FoodBowl, helping large and small companies alike develop and launch new products to market.