Coronary heart disease (CHD) is the major cause of death in Europe, the US and other developed countries. The range of diet-related CHD risk factors lend expanding opportunities for functional foods manufacturers. Judy Davis scans a few recent patents.
Mars Inc. of McLean, Virginia, develops polyphenol-rich dark chocolate confectionery products. According to the company's patent application, the high levels of antioxidant polyphenols found in dark chocolate can help prevent coronary heart disease by inhibiting LDL-cholesterol oxidation and increasing nitric oxide production. LDL oxidation is thought to cause fatty deposits that clog the arteries, whilst nitric oxide inhibits platelet aggregation and monocyte adhesion. Alone, polyphenols do not have a significant cholesterol-lowering effect. For this reason Mars has included cholesterol-lowering ingredients such as phytosterols and phytostanols in the formulation. As well as providing cholesterol-lowering effects, these ingredients have been shown to improve polyphenol absorption. Mars also includes L-arginine, an amino acid precursor of nitric oxide, for extra cardiovascular benefits. (PCT Patent Application WO 01/78529)
High blood pressure (hypertension) increases CHD risk. Angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) helps regulate blood pressure, and substances capable of inhibiting this enzyme's activity are desirable for their blood pressure-reducing properties. Researchers at Davisco Foods International of Eden Prairie, Minnesota, applied for a patent for their ACE-inhibitory peptide preparation method. They use whey proteins that are by-products of cheese production. The whey protein isolate, produced by ion-exchange technology, is partially hydrolysed using proteolytic enzymes. According to the patent application, the resulting dried hydrolysate has significant ACE-inhibitory activity and can be included in functional foods. (PCT Patent Application WO 01/85984)
Blood Circulation Enhancers
Netherlands-based NV Nutricia has applied for a patent for nutritional products aimed specifically at improving the vascular system. The products contain three fractions. The first is a specified mixture of long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids, including EPA and DHA, whose main function is to reduce blood-vessel inflammation and normalise plasma cholesterol levels. The second fraction contains a mixture of phospholipids, such as phosphatidylcholine and phosphatidylserine, whose function is to provide a direct source of neuronal and endothelial cell phospholipids. The last fraction contains factors in methionine metabolism, including folic acid, vitamins B6 and B12, magnesium and zinc. Dietary folate and other B vitamins and cofactors have been shown to reduce blood levels of the atherogenic compound homocysteine. Raised plasma homocysteine levels are a significant risk factor for cardiovascular disease. The products are supplied as nutritional supplements or product ingredients. (PCT Patent Application WO 01/84961)
Soluble fibre has been well documented as able to lower total blood cholesterol levels as well as reduce LDL cholesterol. Psyllium, which belongs to a class of gel-forming soluble fibres, is thought to reduce cholesterol by preventing reabsorption of bile acids as well as cholesterol. The US FDA has approved certain health claims that link soluble fibre in psyllium seed husk with heart disease prevention. Psyllium, however, challenges food product formulators. Its mucilaginous nature results in a slimy, sticky texture, and it can develop a distinctive, undesirable flavour when moistened or heated. Researchers at Kellogg Co. of Battle Creek, Michigan, have developed pasta products incorporating ultrafinely ground psyllium. According to the patent, the resulting products have no unacceptable gumminess and taste good. (US Patent 6,322,839)
Researchers working for the Kao Corp. in Japan have discovered that ferulic acid, which can be isolated from a number of common foods, including rice, barley, onion and corn, is a potent antihypertensive. In addition, when ferulic acid is combined with a diglyceride fat, a stronger hypotensive effect can be achieved. According to the patent, the 15 per cent diglyceride fat and ferulic acid compositions can be included in products such as oils, margarine, biscuits and beverages. A daily dose of up to 10g ferulic acid combined with up to 40g diglyceride may significantly lower blood pressure. (US Patent 6,310,100)