Thursday, September 27, 2012


Why is that nutrition experts recommend including brightly colored fruits and vegetables in the regular diet? Because these plant crops are rich in antioxidant type of phytochemicals considered helpful in protecting human health from many diseases. One of the most important discoveries in medical science is that due to generation of free radicals with high oxidation potential in the cellular system, there can be many dangers like cancer of different types and if these free radicals are promptly neutralized such risks can be averted. The role of antioxidant is to "kill" these radicals and make them innocuous. Though there are many proven antioxidants present in almost all foods in varying concentrations, their absorption into the blood stream is constrained by their inefficiency in getting across the Gastrointestinal membrane. Recent attempts by a group of scientists in the UK to make these oxygen scavenging phytochemicals more efficient in their activity are being hailed as a breakthrough with far reaching positive implications. Here is a take on this exciting new development in the health food.

"What if you could take a naturally occurring compound and make it stronger so that it could make food last longer, create better flame-retardant material, and possibly develop a cancer- fighting drug? Research chemists at Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center believe they may have found an answer to this question. They took a naturally occurring phenolic-based compound and enzymatically polymerized it; this chemical process basically means the compound is reacted to form a long chain of repeating units. "As you make this polymer chain longer, it becomes a more potent anti-oxidant than what you actually find in nature," said Nicole Favreau Farhadi, an NSRDEC research chemist. "(Due to the conjugation of this polymer, it) is more potent than its naturally occurring monomer." Roughly 10 years ago, this process began to be used with epicatechin, an anti-oxidant found in green tea, white tea, red wine, and elsewhere in nature. Research chemists at Natick thought they could use this same tactic for other compounds, such as hydroxytyrosol, one of the most potent antioxidants found in olive oil.  Polymerization in this way is incredibly important because it is relatively simple, now that the process has been formulated, which means polymerizing on a mass scale is feasible. "We reported in two patents the homo- and co-polymerization of hydroxytyrosol for possible application as an anti-oxidant for food, maybe even cancer drugs," said Ferdinando Bruno, also an NSRDEC research chemist. 'Anti-oxidant' seems to be a catch phrase used in magazines, news programs, diets, and even on food labels and elsewhere. This trend may be warranted, though, as free radicals tend to cause more harm than we realize." "When we talk about anti-oxidants as (they) pertain to food, oxygen just wreaks havoc on it," Favreau said. "If you can eliminate or lessen the effect of oxygen on the food, then (it will) last longer. That's why anti-oxidants are so important. You've probably seen how we have oxygen scavengers in rations. The contents of these packets bind with the oxygen, therefore blocking reaction with the compounds in food that cause degradation."

As a chemical reaction is needed to convert the naturally occurring phenolic compounds into more effective antioxidant, the product so formed is considered a synthetic chemical and for use in food products same has to be tested clinically to prove its safety. Probably such efforts in getting approval is time consuming and expensive, it is unlikely that these new generation plant based antioxidants will ever find an entry into foods. The organization which developed this process must strive to get government funding to prove the safety of the products for use in food products. Of course the alternate and easy option to use these polymerized products in non-food industry may be more attractive as it does not involve any elaborate safety assessment.


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