Patents File: Functional Drinks

The market for functional drinks encompasses a wide range of products. These drinks are seen by the consumer as an ideal format for delivering a health boost, and what was once seen as a niche market is becoming mainstream. Judy Davis takes a look at some of the recent patents filed in this dynamic sector.

Mind Stimulator
This carbonated drink, patented in the US, is aimed at consumers lacking energy and drive. According to the inventors, the cause is often a nutritional deficiency linked to a lack of nutrients essential for production of noradrenaline, acetylcholine and dopamine — key brain neurotransmitters. Their invention is a soft drink containing a combination of the following ingredients: phenylalanine, vitamin B6, vitamin C, folic acid, copper, taurine, choline, vitamin B5, fruit sugar, sweeteners, caffeine and green tea extract — a combination aimed at producing positive psychoactive effects. The main active ingredients are either precursors of brain neurotransmitters or essential co-factors involved in their production. According to the patent, carbonation acts as a transport and penetration aid, making onset of the psychoactive effects more rapid and intense. (US Patent 6,261,589)

Calcium- And Magnesium-Fortified Drinks, Juices And Water
Today's consumers are becoming increasingly aware of the essential role of calcium in the diet. Osteoporosis is a major public health problem, and dietary calcium deficiency is a significant risk factor. In addition to its role in bone formation and maintenance, calcium also plays a part in protection against high blood pressure and colon cancer. Magnesium, too, is important for skeletal health — approximately 60-65 per cent of total body magnesium is present in bone. Magnesium also participates in numerous essential biochemical and physiological processes.

There are indications that the intake of both calcium and magnesium may be sub-optimal in many countries, and calcium- and magnesium-fortified products are becoming increasingly sought after. Fortified drinks that taste good are especially desirable as they represent an easy, convenient and pleasant dosage form. A patent from Nestec aims to provide just this. It describes complexes that can be used to fortify drinks, such as water, fruit juices and carbonated drinks, with calcium and magnesium, without the commonly encountered problems of sedimentation, off-flavour formation or protein destabilisation. The metastable complexes are formed by interaction of alkaline salts of calcium and magnesium with a mixture of lactic and citric acids. Stabilisation is achieved by addition of carbohydrates—including fructose, glucose or oligosaccharides such as inulin. Drinks incorporating the complexes are clear, stable over a wide temperature range and able to withstand freeze/thaw cycles without any precipitation or loss of taste or flavour. Inclusion of oligosaccharides such as inulin provides additional health benefits in the form of enhanced calcium absorption. (US Patent 6,261,610)

Omega-3 Soft Drinks
Evidence continues to accumulate on the importance to health of the essential fatty acids eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), most commonly sourced from fish oil. Health effects associated with these fatty acids are numerous and include a reduced risk of coronary heart disease, thrombosis and atherosclerosis, as well as being beneficial to skin, joint and mental health. The recommended daily intake of these fatty acids is between 1,000 and 2,000 mg; however, the unpleasant taste of fish oil remains a serious drawback. Additionally, if the oils are allowed to oxidise, they may form potentially harmful compounds.

This invention, from Norwegian company Coromar AS, aims to overcome these problems by providing a daily dose of omega-3 fatty acids in a palatable orange juice or milk drink. According to the patent, the products have no trace of a fish oil taste. Additionally, no oxidation or auto-oxidation of the fatty acids occurs during storage, even though the surface of the drink comes into contact with air. The inventors believe that this is the result of the special method used for production of the omega-3 fatty acid emulsion. A combination of egg yolk, as the emulsifying agent, vitamin E in the lipid phase and vitamin C in the hydrophase is thought to form a barrier against free radicals, in which vitamin C regenerates the lipid-soluble antioxidant vitamin E and prevents oxidation, rancidity and off-flavours in the fish oils. (PCT Patent Application WO 01/47377)

Sports Drink
The fatigue following vigorous and prolonged exercise is generally the result of dehydration, depletion of endogenous carbohydrate reserves and low blood glucose levels. Sports drinks go some way towards alleviating this. Most sports drinks contain glucose at a concentration of approximately 4-6 per cent w/v, together with a small amount of sodium, which optimises the rate of glucose and water absorption. One of the drawbacks of these glucose-based formulations is the hypoglycaemic dip that occurs after vigorous exercise, which can give rise to increased feelings of exhaustion and reduced alertness. According to inventors at British Sugar, this can be prevented by substituting the glucose in sports drinks with trehalose. This disaccharide, found most commonly in yeasts and certain fungi, is broken down in the intestine by the enzyme trehalase into glucose monomers, which are then absorbed through the gut wall into the bloodstream. Use of trehalose instead of glucose still produces a rapid boost in glucose levels but, most importantly, sustains the blood glucose level for at least an hour following the exercise. Replacing the glucose in sports drinks with trehalose therefore gives rise to reduced fatigue and faster recovery following exercise. (PCT Patent Application WO 01/39615)

This information has been compiled by Leatherhead Food Research Association. For further information contact Judy Davis, Tel: +44 (0) 1372 822241, E-mail: [email protected]

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