September preview: Lignans play role in women's health

Editors' note: In the upcoming September issue of Functional Ingredients we will publish our third annual Condition Specific guide. Check out our editors' picks for the top ingredients in each health category and for a list of suppliers. The following is a peek at some of the information we uncovered.

Plant lignans from such sources as flax seed, whole grain cereals, berries, vegetables and fruit have long been thought to play an important role as modulators of hormone metabolism. Just this May, a meta-analysis of available research found that lignans may reduce the risk of breast cancer in post-menopausal women by 14 percent.

The meta-analysis, published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, used data from 21 published studies — 11 prospective cohort and 10 case-control studies.

The highest lignin intakes were associated with a 14 percent reduction in the risk of breast cancer amongst post-menopausal women, while breast cancer risk was also associated with enterolignan consumption, the researchers said.

Food and supplement formulators have a wealth of branded lignan ingredients to choose from. Frutarom sells LinumLife, containing the main lignan in flaxseed, secoisolariciresinol diglucoside (SDG). It comes in two concentrations: 4-6 percent SDG and 20 percent SDG. It is co-branded in dozens of products, including Women's Midlife Ease by Jarrow Formulas and Longevital by Swanson Vitamins.

ADM has been producing flax ingredients for more than 100 years, and its Beneflax line has a 35% minimum concentration of SDG. Marco Hi-Tech's ActiFlex lignans tout a 40 percent SDS ratio.

Meanwhile, Swiss company Linnea takes another approach with its HMRlignan ingredient, from the Norwegian spruce tree (Picea abies). It contains a different type of lignan called 7-hydroxymatairesinol (HMR). HMRlignan received a first place award at the Scripps Integrative Medicine 5th Annual Natural Supplements Conference in 2008, in recognition of its research that 7-HMR reduces hot flashes by 53 percent in menopausal women.

All this is important information because menopause itself lasts about four years in and of itself and probably represents the biggest void out there in the supplements market.

Red yeast rice for cardiovascular health
For the past 10 years, Draco Natural Products of California has offered red yeast rice for custom dietary supplement formulations. A June 2009 study in the Annals of Internal Medicine reported that the ingredient lowers cholesterol in patients who cannot tolerate statin therapy because of muscle pain. The study involved 62 patients who were assigned to receive either three 600mg red yeast rice capsules or three placebo capsules twice a day for 24 weeks.

During the 24 weeks of the study, LDL cholesterol levels decreased more in patients receiving red yeast rice (average decrease, 35 mg/dL) than in patients receiving placebo (average decrease, 15 mg/dL). Total cholesterol levels also improved more in the red yeast rice group than in the placebo group.

This is a dicey ingredient, however, because it is molecularly identical to some statin drugs, manufacturers of which don't take kindly to supplemental competition. Put a heart on the label — but don't mention any cardiovascular condition it might address — and you might be alright.

Letter vitamins step up for diabetes
In May researchers published the results of a 10-year study that followed 38,000 Dutch adults; those who got the most vitamin K in their diets were about 20 percent less likely to be diagnosed with type 2 diabetes during the study period.

While the researchers pointed out that this does not prove that the vitamin is the reason for the lower risk, it should fuel further research into whether it does play a role in the disease development. They also noted that there is evidence vitamin K reduces systemic inflammation, which could boost the body's ability to use insulin.

In the US, the RDA for vitamin K is 120mcg for men and 90mcg for women. In the study, participants with the highest intakes typically consumed between 250 and 360mcg.

In a presentation at Health Ingredients South America in 2009, director of DSM's global nutritional science group, Dr James Elliott, gave a presentation in which he highlighted the importance vitamin E may play.

Epidemiological studies have showed that diabetics often have decreased vitamin E levels. In a 2008 study, vitamin

E supplementation appeared to reduce cardiovascular events in particular group of people with type II diabetes.

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