Five tests applied during product development can help determine commercial success. They are acceptability, ease of formatting, cost-effectiveness, efficacy and safety. Known as the AECES model, Joanna Marchut and Peter JH Jones evaluate several functional foods candidates and explain how to put this tool to work for you
Recent advances have helped scientists demonstrate the efficacy of functional foods. But the million dollar question always remains: Will these findings translate into market sales? Five criteria can be used to evaluate the potential of oil-based functional foods to reach commercial success. They are acceptability, ease of formatting, cost-effectiveness, efficacy and safety. This is known as the AECES model.
Stakeholders at various ends of the spectrum include manufacturers and marketers, regulatory agencies and monitoring groups. Ultimately, the goal is consumer acceptance. Several functional foods candidates are examined below for their potential as oil-based nutraceuticals.
Isolated from sugar cane wax and other plant waxes, policosanols are made up of mixtures of very long-chain fatty acids/alcohols — for example, a mixture of octacosanol, triacontanol and hexacosanol.
Numerous Cuban studies have demonstrated the positive effects of policosanols on lipid levels in humans and animals. They have been shown to reduce total cholesterol, triglycerides and LDL cholesterol and to increase levels of HDL cholesterol.
With regard to animal trials, researchers have found that rabbits fed a diet high in policosanols actually have lower cholesterol biosynthesis; these rabbits had a lower content of newly synthesised sterols in their livers compared with the rabbits on the control diets. However, the efficacy of this functional food is questionable because all studies were done in Cuba and South America, thus independent validation of policosanol action is needed.
The AECES model for policosanols shows that acceptability and safety are good. Policosanols are easily formatted into tablet forms, and they are also cost-effective compared to other cholesterol-lowering drugs.
Conjugated linoleic acid (CLA)
CLA is a collective term for a class of conjugated isomers of linoleic acid that is produced naturally in the rumen of ruminant animals by fermentative bacteria. The most common sources of CLA are milk — most dairy products and meat come from ruminants. CLA could be useful in improving human health in a number of areas, such as controlling body fat gain, enhancing immunity and reducing inflammation. Interest in CLA has grown so much in recent years that the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition decided this nutraceutical was worthy of an entire document devoted to its role in human health, published as a supplement in 2004.
CLA was first identified as an anticarcinogen in the late 1970s. Many studies done on cancer cell lines or on rodents have shown that CLA can have a positive effect on cancer by decreasing the number of cancer cells.
CLA has recently received most of its attention as a potential body-fat controller. Both body weight and adipose deposition have been reduced in animals fed diets containing CLA. As for humans, one notable year-long human study published last year found 7-9 per cent reductions in body fat mass and 2 per cent increases in lean body mass among those who supplemented with CLA. However, more studies are needed to investigate the efficacy of CLA as an anti-obesity agent, since most of the research done on CLA?s effect on body fat gain has been done on animals.
In a recent study conducted in Norway in 2004 — the first to investigate the long-term effects of CLA — no adverse events reported were linked to CLA supplementation.
Taking a look at the AECES model for CLA, we see that while the acceptability, cost-effectiveness and ease of formatting are high, the efficacy of CLA is somewhat in question because the animal evidence is more compelling than the human data. Moreover, sufficient human studies should be carried out before we can be certain that CLA has no adverse effects. Nevertheless, its potential as an effective nutraceutical is substantial, and further research is under way to determine its true capacities as a functional ingredient.
Plant sterols and stanols and their analogs have already been added to milk, orange juice and cereals and possess health claims such as ?proven to dramatically reduce cholesterol? and ?may reduce the risk of heart disease.? Indeed, countless studies have shown that phytosterols result in the reduction of total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol in humans. In rabbits, sterols have been shown to be effective in keeping coronary arteries free of cholesterol and fat deposits.
With a similar structure to cholesterol, plant sterols such as campesterol, beta-sitosterol and beta-sitostanol compete with cholesterol for absorption. Studies also have looked at different forms of plant sterols. One form, the stanol-ascorbate ester, reduces total cholesterol, triglycerides and body weight of hamsters above and beyond the regular plant sterol form.
The effects of long-term use have been investigated, and it has been found that consumption of stanol-ester (1g/day) over a one-year period in humans decreased total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol, with no effect on HDL cholesterol. Furthermore, levels of sitosterol and campesterol have been reduced up to 50 per cent and 100 per cent, respectively.
In summary, substantial interest exists in the future development of oil-based nutraceuticals and functional foods targeting preventive health. In terms of product formulators assaying new ingredients, defined criteria can be established to identify potentially useful candidates for future consideration. These criteria can be assembled in the form of a model utilised as a yardstick for evaluation of the future potential of functional foods and nutraceutical candidates. Such candidates have to be carefully compared against several criteria in order to select nutraceuticals and functional foods of the future for consumer use and acceptance.
Joanna Marchut and Peter JH Jones are faculty members at the School of Dietetics and Human Nutrition at McGill University, Quebec, Canada.
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