12 January - 20 June 2016

Other headlines

  • Study indicates that excess levels of calcium may play a role in Parkinson’s disease
  • Can eating yogurt reduce risk of cardiovascular disease?
  • Nutraceuticals – a need for a proper definition and clear regulations
  • Traffic light food and drink labelling should be made mandatory after Brexit – LGA
  • Can low levels of alcohol be good for the brain?
  • Microbes may help transform human waste into food
  • Could flavonoids found in hops improve symptoms of metabolic syndrome?
  • An amino acid found in asparagus could influence cancer spread
  • Marine omega-3s found to be more effective than plant based for cancer protection
  • Japanese farm grows bananas with edible skin

Study indicates that excess levels of calcium may play a role in Parkinson’s disease
An international team of scientists led by the University of Cambridge are reporting in the journal Nature Communications that excess amounts of calcium in brain cells could lead to the formation of toxic clusters that are the hallmark of Parkinson’s disease.  The scientists report that calcium may interfere with neuronal signalling in the brain and alpha-synuclein.  Excess levels of either calcium or alpha-synuclein may be what starts the chain reaction that leads to the death of brain cells. The researchers report that they found that alpha-synuclein, a very small protein with very little structure, is involved in various processes including smooth flow of chemical signals in the brain and the movement of molecules in and out of nerve endings.   Using microscopy techniques they investigated the behaviour of alpha-synuclein and calcium.  They report that when calcium levels in the nerve cell increase, such as upon neuronal signalling, the alpha-synuclein binds to synaptic vesicles at multiple points causing the vesicles to come together. This may indicate that the normal role of alpha-synuclein is to help the chemical transmission of information across nerve cells.

Can eating yogurt reduce risk of cardiovascular disease?
Higher yogurt intake is associated with lower cardiovascular disease risk among hypertensive men and women according to a study published in the American Journal of Hypertension.  The team analysed results from dietary questionnaires from 55,000 women aged 30-55 years old who participated in the Nurses’ Health Study and 18,000 men (ages 40-75) who participated in the Health Professionals Follow-Up Study. In the Nurses’ Health study a questionnaire was given to the participants in 1980 and reported usual dietary intake in the preceding year as well as any interim physician-diagnosed events including myocardial infarction, stroke, and revascularization.  The scientists found that higher intakes of yogurt were associated with a 30% reduced risk of myocardial infarction among the Nurses' Health Study women and a 19 % reduction in the Health Professionals Follow-Up Study men. Those who consumed more than 2 servings a week of yogurt, in both studies were found to have approximately 20% lower risk of coronary heart disease or stroke during follow-up.    When revascularization was added to the total cardiovascular disease outcome variable, the risk estimates were reduced for both men and women, but remained significant.

Nutraceuticals – a need for a proper definition and clear regulations
A review published in the British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology is reporting that there is a need for a proper definition of nutraceuticals and clear regulations to ensure their safety.  Whilst there has been a growing demand for nutraceuticals, there still remains a grey areas between pharmaceuticals and food and it is thought they provide health benefits beyond the diet. The review article suggests that nutraceuticals could be used to treat and prevent medical conditions in those that are not eligible for pharmaceutical drugs. It states that clinical studies should investigate their safety and efficacy and that they require a specific classification apart from food supplements and pharmaceuticals. They proposed the definition of “(i) for food of vegetal origin, a nutraceutical is the phytocomplex; and (ii) for food of animal origin, a nutraceutical is the pool of secondary metabolites. Both are concentrated and administered in the proper pharmaceutical form. They are capable of providing beneficial health effects, including the prevention and/or the treatment of a disease.”

Traffic light food and drink labelling should be made mandatory after Brexit – LGA
The Local Government Association is calling for traffic light food and drink labelling to be made mandatory after Brexit.   The LGA note that the current voluntary traffic light scheme, which was introduced by the Department of Health in 2013, is displayed on two thirds of products sold in the UK.  They note that if this was a legal requirement then this would help people make more informed choices about the food they eat. In a press release LGA state report that shoppers on average take 15 seconds to choose a product in supermarket, “a mandatory system would give consumer at-a-glance information that enables them to make healthy choices.” 

Can low levels of alcohol be good for the brain?
A mouse study conducted by researchers at the University of Rochester Medical Centre revealed that low levels of alcohol consumption can potentially lead to a healthier brain. The findings from the study show that low doses of alcohol increased functionality of the glymphatic system, the brain’s cleaning process, helping to clear toxins including those linked to Alzheimer’s disease. The study investigated both acute and chronic exposure of mice to low and high doses of alcohol. The effects seem to match a J-shaped model; namely, low doses of alcohol boosted glymphatic function whereas high doses inhibited functionality. Mice exposed to lower doses of alcohol exhibited less inflammation in the brain, and their glymphatic system moved cerebral spinal fluid (CSF) through the brain more efficiently, flushing away waste toxins. These waste toxins include beta amyloid and tau, both of which are associated with Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia. Additionally, the performance of mice exposed to low doses of alcohol was not affected in the cognitive and motor tests compared with the control set. Conversely, however, the mice exposed to higher doses of alcohol experienced higher levels of inflammation in the brain along with impairment of their cognitive and motor skills. This may possibly contribute to the higher risk of dementia in heavy drinkers.

Microbes may help transform human waste into food
A study published in Life Sciences in Space Research conducted by scientists at Penn State University has shown that it is possible to use human waste to grow food using microbial reactors. The enclosed, cylindrical system constructed by the researchers produces a nutritional food source similar to Marmite or Vegemite which could become especially useful for deep-space travel. Advanced techniques in waste management like this present an opportunity to reduce the amount of food storage needed on board spacecraft longer travel times. The team extracted methane through the anaerobic digestion of waste to grow the microbe Methylococcus capsulatus, used to produce a biomass rich in protein and fat (52% protein and 36% lipids). Such nutritional content could provide a viable source of food for astronauts in future space travel. A danger of constructing microbes in a humid system such as this is the presence of pathogens and to address this issue, the research team investigated alkaline and high-temperature environments. In both adapted systems, the team managed to uncover other helpful microbes, namely Halomonas desiderata, 15% protein and 7% lipids, and Thermus aquaricus, 61% protein and 16% lipids, respectively. The team managed to remove 49-59 percent of solids in 13 hours, a lot faster than existing waste management systems. Currently, however, the individual processes used in the experiment are performed in isolation and therefore would still need to be combined to achieve a fully working product.

Could flavonoids found in hops improve symptoms of metabolic syndrome?
A mouse study published in Nature Scientific Reports has indicated that flavonoids found in hops may improve symptoms of Metabolic Syndrome (MS) including cognition.  MS is used to describe a combination of risk factors for the development of major diseases including type II diabetes, cardiovascular disease and stroke and is also associated with cognitive dysfunction and dementia. Obesity and following a calorie-excessive diet high in saturated fat are associated with increased risk of developing MS. Previous studies have found xanthohumal (XH), a flavonoid produced in hops, to lower the risk of developing MS. However, its metabolism into 8-phenylnaringenin (8-PN) poses a risk to human health due its high estrogenic activity, potentially inducing breast tumours. A 13-week study by Miranda et al. has focused on two XH hydrogenated derivatives with lower estrogenic activity; α,β-dihydro-XN (DXN) and tetrahydro-XN (TXN), and their effect on the biological markers of MS . They found that high fat diet (HFD)-induced obese rats fed a high fat diet supplemented with 30 mg per kg body weight of any one of the three flavonoid compounds (XH, DXN and TXN) showed improvements in glucose metabolism (such as insulin resistance) and decreased leptin levels (commonly known as “the hunger hormone”) compared to the control group. Most importantly, the DXN and TXN derivatives showed greater improvements over the original XH compound in these measurements.  In addition, all three compounds were associated with enhanced cognitive function such as improvements in memory and spatial learning. The scientists conclude that the XN derivatives, DXN and TXN, could have the “potential to prevent and treat the neurometabolic impairments” of MS without posing a risk of hepatotoxic and estrogenic side effects. However further research is needed to extrapolate these findings to humans.

RSSL can carry out simple flavonoid screens. For more information please contact Customer Services on +44 (0) 118 918 4076 or email enquiries@rssl.com

An amino acid found in asparagus could influence cancer spread
Metastasis is the stage of cancer at which the cancerous cells spread from the original location to a new set of tissues within the body. This aggressive invasion of cells causes the cancer tumour to grow, is often untreatable by chemotherapy and can be fatal. A study conducted by Knott et al, published in Nature and heavily cited in the popular press, has investigated the role of specific dietary components on the promotion of metastatic genes in rats. They focused on the non-essential amino acid asparagine, commonly found in foods like asparagus, poultry and seafood. Non-essential amino acids are produced naturally in the body so the levels are not purely determined by dietary consumption. The production and breakdown of the amino acid is governed by two enzymes; asparagine synthetase and L-asparaginase, respectively. They found that asparagine could be a driving force in the spread of breast cancer as the promotion of asparagine synthetase and a high asparagine diet increased metastasis. Meanwhile, the rats given L-asparaginase or a low asparagine diet, showed decreased metastasis of the cancerous tumour. The significance of these findings shows potential for L-asparaginase and restricting dietary asparagine to be used as aids for decreasing the progression of breast cancer alongside other drug treatments, increasing their overall effectiveness. Coverage of the study has included that it must be noted that “asparagine wasn't found to cause cancer, even in the mice studied. The compound merely made triple-negative breast cancer spread more quickly around the tiny rodent bodies. The same effect might be true for other cancers in mice, but more research is needed to know for sure. (Sciencealert.com) Whilst this study provides some evidence for the impact of dietary components on the progression of cancer, there is still limited supportive human trials so experts from Cancer Research UK advise patients to contact their GP first before making any drastic alterations to their diet.

Marine omega-3s found to be more effective than plant based for cancer protection
Reporting in the Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry, scientists from the University of Guelph have indicated that whilst both omega-3 from both plant and marine sources can protect against cancer, marine omega-3 appears to be more eight times more effective.  The mouse study, involved feeding different types of omega-3 (α-linoleic (ALA) a plant-based form found in flaxseed and oils and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) found in marine life including fish, algae and phytoplankton) to mice with a highly aggressive form of human breast cancers affecting around 25% of women. Before the tumours developed the mice were exposed to the different omega-3s with exposure being in utero.  The scientists found that the marine-based omega-3s reduced the size of the tumours by 60 to 70% and the number of tumours by 30%. Higher amounts of the plant-based omega-3s were needed to show the same results.  The authors recommend that humans consume two to three servings of fish per week to have the same effect. 

RSSL's Lipids Laboratory, part of the Investigative Analysis Team has expertise in all aspects of fat analysis and fatty acid profiling, including the determination of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. To find out more please contact Customer Services telephone 0118 918 4076 or e-mail enquiries@rssl.com

Japanese farm grows bananas with edible skin
Using a method called “freeze thaw awakening” a Japanese farm has manage to grow bananas that have a soft edible skin.  D&T farm cooled the banana growth cells to -60oC before thawing them. The fruit known as Mongee bananas, were sold last year in a department store in Okayama.  Consumers have been told to wait for small brown spot appear on the banana before consuming, as this means the banana is ready to be eaten.  Taste-tests have found the skin to be relatively thin compared to a regular banana, with no strange texture.  The flesh was described as having a strong tropical flavour.  So far the bananas have been grown in small batches and are currently being sold for around £4.32.  However the farm is planning to grow 10 times as many this year, and are considering exporting overseas in the future. (The Guardian)

RSSL can evaluate your new ingredient to understand composition, functionality and behaviour. To find out more please contact Customer Services telephone 0118 918 4076 or e-mail enquiries@rssl.com

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