A rising star in the phyto-oestrogen firmament
Many people today know that flax contains among the highest level of lignans, but more recently, a new source is being exploited. The knotwood of the Norway spruce (Picea abies) contains highly concentrated amounts of a lignan known as 7-hydroxymatairesinol, or HMR. Linnea, headquartered in Switzerland, launched its branded 7-hydroxymatairesinol product, HMRlignan, in Novem-ber 2005. HMRlignan was developed in Finland, with Turku-based Hormos Medical Corp playing a lead role.
Lignans are fibrous compounds present in foods such as unrefined grain products, fruits and vegetables, and seeds such as flaxseed and sesame. They have been shown to play an important role in combating the effects of menopause, including protection against cancer, cognitive decline and hypertension.
Lignans have no oestrogenic activity in themselves, but when consumed they are converted to the mammalian lignans, primarily enterolactone, by bacteria that colonise the human intestine. Enterolactone exerts a weak oestrogen-like activity. When oestrogen levels are high, enterolactone occupies and blocks oestrogen receptors, thereby acting to smooth the peaks and valleys of menopausal symptoms. Thus, lignans are called enerolactone precursors, or phyto-oestrogens.
Norway spruce extracts have been used traditionally as a flavouring ingredient in confectionery and spruce syrups. In traditional medicine they are also defined in the German Commission E monograph, and uses include managing colds and the flu, and as a hyperemic and energizing tonic. They are also used in topical formulations.HMRlignan is the industry's first and only direct enterolactone precursor, according to Linnea. Initially, the company is marketing the ingredient in the US to makers of supplements. However, according to Linnea's marketing director, Robin Ward, HMRlignan is available globally and is undergoing local registration in the EU, Asia, South America and Australia.
The potential for HMRlignan becoming an additive for functional foods is good, according to Ward. Linnea has the global license as well as the approved and pending patents for the manufacturing process of 7-hydroxymatairesinol, and also its use in galenic formulations such as tablets and capsules or in cosmetic formulations. It also has approved or pending patents for hormonally dependant cancers, cardiovascular disease and menopause.
Ward says it takes far more flaxseed than HMRlignan to deliver an equivalent amount of beneficial enterolactone into the bloodstream. One would have to eat about 40g of unrefined flaxseed to derive the same benefit in just 30mg of HMR. "Studies indicate postmenopausal women in the US get 1mg a day of lignans," he says. In the past, women obtained more lignans from grain-rich meals, but today diet selection and over-processing of foods have reduced that intake substantially.
"In order to maintain adequate levels, they need to take between 20-50mg a day," Ward says. "Our product makes it much easier to attain the levels needed because it is so much more efficient than flax."
Doses of 10-40mg elevate the enterolactone level to the same degree as 3 tablespoons of lignans from unground flaxseed, with higher bioavailability.
Ward says that Linnea-sponsored phase-one human trials have been completed, and phase-two trials are soon to begin to address menopausal symptoms.
Ward sees a bright future for lignans. "Lignans are an important micronutrient and probably the most common phyto-oestrogen in the diet. Academia has developed a strong interest in their bioactivity over the last 10 years and generated a large pool of research. With the growth of knowledge and ongoing research we feel that lignans have the potential to become the new soy."
Linnea is a joint venture of Dr Willmar Schwabe of Germany, and Ipsen of France. The two companies are privately held, and have combined annual sales of $1 billion. Linnea also produces other botanicals, including ginkgo biloba extract, red clover extract, vinpocetine, bilberry extract and valerian root extract.