Results from a study1 newly published in the Journal of Functional Foods showed for the first time that quinoa phytochemicals may slow the effects of aging and improve metabolic health in an animal model. The study adds to the “superfood” cachet that the high-protein ancient grain already enjoys.
But while quinoa (Chenopodium quinoa) has heretofore earned praise primarily for the full complement of amino acids that its protein comprises, the current study examined the benefits attributable to its rich store of phytochemicals, including flavonoid glycosides, phenolic acids, betalains, saponins, and compounds called ecdysteroids.
The study, a collaboration between Rutgers University and the North Carolina State University Plants for Human Health Institute (PHHI) at the North Carolina Research Campus (NCRC), used the nematode Caenorhabditis elegans, or C. elegans, as its animal model—a common choice in research because the worms are transparent, easy to study, and have a short lifespan. Also, specific types of metabolic genes in the worms are similar to those in mammals.
With the aim of studying the quinoa phytochemicals’ effects on C. elegans’ lifespan, movement, development of advanced glycation end-product (AGE) pigments—molecules that accumulate during aging—and reactive oxygen species (ROS), the researchers subjected the worms to a complex high-concentration phytochemical mixture—termed “quinoa leachate”—which they prepared specifically to extract and concentrate the bioactive quinoa components of interest.
Speaking in a company statement, Slavko Komarnytsky, PhD, associate professor of pharmacogenomics and director of the Mobile Discovery program at PHHI, and one of the study’s co-authors, noted: “The use of leachate of quinoa seeds as a vehicle for extraction and concentration of its bioactive properties is an original idea of my collaborators at Rutgers University.”
As for the results, they showed for the first time that quinoa supplementation slows aging in C. elegans and boosts its metabolic health, improving factors like lifespan and locomotory performance and decreasing negative factors such as AGE levels and ROS and lipid accumulation.
The present study contributes to a growing body of knowledge surrounding quinoa and its beneficial properties, including a 2014 PHHI study of its phytochemicals and their ability to lower blood glucose in the context of diabetes. Though acknowledging the need for further study, the authors concluded that the findings suggest that eating quinoa may “improve various aspects of health and wellness among aging populations.”
- Graf BL et al., “Phytoecdysteroid-enriched quinoa seed leachate enhances healthspan and mitochondrial metabolism in Caenorhabditis elegans,” Journal of Functional Foods, vol. 37 (October 2017): 1-7.