Sunday, November 30, 2014

Spicing up the Spice!-Enhancing the bioavailability of phytochemicals

The so called well being industry which rides on a multi billion dollar market often confuses its own well being as that of the consume it is supposed to serve! The players who dominate this sector seem to be thriving on non-transparent, vague and some times misleading claims about the benefits consumer can derive by taking their products. The products being peddled around by them. most commonly referred to as "dietary supplements" have rarely any scientific data, proved by clinical trials with human subjects and most evidence offered is based on literature information or limited rat studies of doubtful value. The medical community, at least some members of this group who have some conscience, agree that no normally healthy person consuming a balanced diet requires any supplements and there fore these are specialty products, useful to various people with one or the other health problem. What is more intriguing is the unabashed marketing of many plant materials containing biologically significant phytochemicals with claims that cannot be easily substantiated. Here is a typical example of a phytochemical extracted from turmeric which was being touted as an antidote for every ailment experienced by man, though turmeric, per se, is a traditional alternate medicinal option known since centuries to get relief from some health problems. 

"Historians from all around the world have produced evidence to show that apparently all primitive peoples used herbs-often in a sophisticated way. "Quinine from Cinchona bark was used to treat the symptoms of malaria long before the disease was identified, and the raw ingredients of a common aspirin tablet have been a popular painkiller for far longer than we have had access to tablet-making machinery. Indeed, today many pharmacological classes of drugs include a natural product prototype that we originally discovered through the study of traditional cures and folk knowledge of indigenous people." There's a plant in South Asia called Adhatoda from adu meaning "goat," and thoda meaning "not touch" because it's so bitter even the goats won't eat it. However, it has compounds that help open one's airways and as such, Adhatoda tea has been used traditionally to treat asthma, where the leaves are steeped with black peppercorns. Leaves steeped with black peppercorns? That sounds gross to me—why would they do that? Because they're smart. Back in 1928, scientists discovered what the people evidently already knew, that adding pepper increased the anti-asthmatic properties of the leaves. Black pepper alone didn't work: it was the combination. And now we know why. Just like approximately 5% of the spice turmeric is composed of an active compound called curcumin, about 5% of black pepper by weight is comprised of this compound called piperine. Curcumin is responsible for the yellow color of turmeric and piperine for the pungent flavor of pepper. Piperine is a potent inhibitor of drug metabolism. One of the ways our liver gets rid of foreign substances is making them water soluble so they can be more easily excreted. But this black pepper molecule inhibits that process. And it doesn't take much. If people are given a bunch of turmeric curcumin, within an hour there's a little bump in the level in their blood stream. We don't see a large increase because our liver is actively trying to get rid of it. But what if the process is suppressed by taking just a quarter teaspoon's worth of black pepper? Then you see curcumin levels skyrocket. The same amount of curcumin consumed, but the bioavailability shoots up 2000%. Even just a little pinch of pepper—1/20th of a teaspoon—can significantly boost levels. And guess what a common ingredient in curry powder is besides turmeric? Black pepper. Another way to boost the absorption of curcumin is to consume it in the whole food, turmeric root (fresh or dried as a powder) because natural oils found in turmeric root and turmeric powder can enhance the bioavailability of curcumin seven to eight fold. When eaten with fat, curcumin can be directly absorbed into the bloodstream through the lymphatic system thereby in part bypassing the liver. How is it prepared in India? With fat and black pepper. Amazing how they could figure that out without double blind trials. (Though maybe it just tastes good, and it's merely coincidence?) Their traditional knowledge certainly failed them with ghee, however, which is practically pure butter fat, which may explain their relatively high rates of heart disease despite all their turmeric".

This case is not highlighted for any false claim but to show how difficult it is to prove the beneficial impact of a traditional plant substance. The type of study illustrated above brings out when turmeric can be effective and under what conditions. Just swallowing a capsule containing curcumin cannot ensure that the consumer will get the benefit attributed to whole turmeric. It is conveniently ignored that turmeric contains a few other biologically active organic molecules like turmerone having other benefits. The "revelation" that turmeric effect is several fold higher when consumed in combination with black pepper is indeed science based with biological logic. Some how the well being industry does not bother about such truths before promoting their formulated products. The rational explanation that turmeric efficacy, after it is mixed with oils which are absorbed through the thoraicic route is convincing and the complimentary effect of piperine in preventing curcumin destruction in the liver is plausible. This study has proved one thing whether any one likes it or not, that our traditional food habits in India have a scientific root whether accidental or coincidental. This is where Indian research institutions must focus more to unravel the strength of our traditional foods in stead of wasting their time on western oriented foods.  


No comments: