Researcher Dr. Susanne Mertens-Talcott of Texas A&M University is looking into how plant-based phytochemicals, including antioxidants and herbal supplements, can be useful in the promotion of health and prevention of chronic diseases.
This field is still growing. In the U.S. more than $20 billion was spent on dietary supplements in 2005, said Talcott, who is in a joint research and teaching position with the department of nutrition and food science and the department of veterinary physiology and pharmacology.
"Over $7 billion was spent on herbal dietary supplements in 2005." These supplements are plant-based, including grape seed extract, St. John's wort, ginseng and biloba extract, she added.
"In addition to that there is the segment of so-called ‘functional foods,' including antioxidant foods – for example, fruit juices and beverages and grain-based products," Talcott said.
The amount spent on these foods each year "has increased drastically; however, we do not know yet how efficacious these different antioxidants really are in the prevention of chronic diseases such as cardiovascular disease and cancer," she said. "We also do not know very much about the mechanisms, which appear to include antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects of these phytochemicals."
This can be important to health since these reactive oxygen species or ‘free radicals' may play a role in some diseases, including Alzheimer's, cancer and atherosclerosis, she said.
"However, other mechanisms, including the prevention of chronic inflammation and interaction with intracellular mechanisms, may be as important in the prevention of chronic diseases," she said. But are they safe? Are they efficient? How much is required? And how much is too much? Talcott is looking for the answers to these questions through her research.
"My overall goal is to find out more about the safety and efficacy of phytochemical dietary supplements," she said. Because these items are already popular with consumers, "we need to follow up with research. We know very little about (dose) recommendations and how safe (they are)."
Phytochemicals, also called secondary plant compounds – including antioxidants – have been defined as chemicals found in plants that have protective or disease-fighting properties ( http://phytochemicals.info/ ).
Pomegranate juice and extract have been the focus of much of her studies. Because these are used in different food products, they are found as ingredients in many different items in supermarkets, Talcott said.
She has also done research on the properties of muscadine grapes and acai, a palm fruit from Brazil, as well as isolated compounds including quercetin and ellagic acid, which are also sold as dietary supplements.
The results of some of her studies were published in the Oct. 13, 2006, edition of the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry. The article was titled "Absorption, Metabolism and Antioxidant Effects of Pomegranate (Punica granatum L.) Polyphenols after Ingestion of a Standardized Extract in Healthy Human Volunteers."
In addition to her research, Talcott teaches a class on "Special Topics in Phytochemicals of Fruits and Vegetables" for students who are majoring in nutrition and food science. Many of the students are planning to enter medical or pharmacy school, she added.
"It is my goal to give students as much relevant information, which they directly can apply in their desired profession," Talcott said. "Consumers and patients have many questions about herbal dietary supplements, and health care professionals and (members of the) food industry are and will be even more confronted with these questions."
For example, Dr. Joseph M. Betz was a recent guest lecturer in Talcott's class. Betz is the director of the Dietary Supplement Methods and Reference Materials Program Office of Dietary Supplements at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Md. He discussed Food and Drug Administration rules as to the differences between foods and drugs and how each must be labeled. With regard to herbal supplements, this can sometimes be a little tricky, he said.
During the question and answer period at the end of his talk, one of the students asked about a recent study on antioxidants. According to news reports, the study seemed to find that antioxidants – especially vitamins A and E – don't have the beneficial properties they are thought to have and may even increase mortality.
Talcott offered this clarification in regard to the study: "This study statistically analyzed many different clinical studies with vitamins A, E (and) C, beta-carotene and selenium. The performed statistical analysis indicated that vitamin A and E and beta-caraotene may increase mortality in some of the selected studies. The meaning of this study currently is being discussed."
The study looked at synthetic antioxidants, she said, which are not the same compounds that she is researching.
"Even though we still have a lot to learn about the efficacy, safety and dosing recommendations for herbal supplements and antioxidant foods, we can be confident to recommend a healthy balanced diet according to the food-pyramid rich in fresh fruits and vegetables. I also would not see a problem with the intake of reasonable amounts of standardized high-quality antioxidant dietary supplements," she said
"It is my long-term goal to see science-based intake recommendations developed for those herbal plant compounds which have a proven potential in the promotion of health and prevention of chronic disease."
Talcott earned a master of science degree in nutritional sciences from the University of Bonn in Germany in 1998, and a doctorate in nutritional sciences from the University of Florida in 2004. From 2004-2006, she was a postdoctoral research associate with the pharmaceutics department, Center for Food Drug Interactions and Education, at the University of Florida.
Dr. Susanne Talcott | EurekAlert!
New data unearths pesticide peril in beehives
21.04.2017 | Cornell University
New rice fights off drought
04.04.2017 | RIKEN
More and more automobile companies are focusing on body parts made of carbon fiber reinforced plastics (CFRP). However, manufacturing and repair costs must be further reduced in order to make CFRP more economical in use. Together with the Volkswagen AG and five other partners in the project HolQueSt 3D, the Laser Zentrum Hannover e.V. (LZH) has developed laser processes for the automatic trimming, drilling and repair of three-dimensional components.
Automated manufacturing processes are the basis for ultimately establishing the series production of CFRP components. In the project HolQueSt 3D, the LZH has...
Reflecting the structure of composites found in nature and the ancient world, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have synthesized thin carbon nanotube (CNT) textiles that exhibit both high electrical conductivity and a level of toughness that is about fifty times higher than copper films, currently used in electronics.
"The structural robustness of thin metal films has significant importance for the reliable operation of smart skin and flexible electronics including...
The nearby, giant radio galaxy M87 hosts a supermassive black hole (BH) and is well-known for its bright jet dominating the spectrum over ten orders of magnitude in frequency. Due to its proximity, jet prominence, and the large black hole mass, M87 is the best laboratory for investigating the formation, acceleration, and collimation of relativistic jets. A research team led by Silke Britzen from the Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy in Bonn, Germany, has found strong indication for turbulent processes connecting the accretion disk and the jet of that galaxy providing insights into the longstanding problem of the origin of astrophysical jets.
Supermassive black holes form some of the most enigmatic phenomena in astrophysics. Their enormous energy output is supposed to be generated by the...
The probability to find a certain number of photons inside a laser pulse usually corresponds to a classical distribution of independent events, the so-called...
Microprocessors based on atomically thin materials hold the promise of the evolution of traditional processors as well as new applications in the field of flexible electronics. Now, a TU Wien research team led by Thomas Müller has made a breakthrough in this field as part of an ongoing research project.
Two-dimensional materials, or 2D materials for short, are extremely versatile, although – or often more precisely because – they are made up of just one or a...
20.04.2017 | Event News
18.04.2017 | Event News
03.04.2017 | Event News
24.04.2017 | Physics and Astronomy
24.04.2017 | Materials Sciences
24.04.2017 | Life Sciences