As our industry moves forward defining and redefining itself in both form and function, the entire basis for creating products that are both healthy and profitable takes on a whole new dimension. As research focuses more on which active components in botanicals and herbs have beneficial effects on the human condition, we are faced with decisions about which ones work most effectively in our bodies.
As our industry moves forward defining and redefining itself in both form and function, the entire basis for creating products that are both healthy and profitable takes on a whole new dimension. As research focuses more on which active components in botanicals and herbs have beneficial effects on the human condition, we are faced with decisions about which ones work most effectively in our bodies. Do we look at individual active ingredients extracted from plants that have specific pharmacological and pharmacokinetic benefits, like drug companies, or do we take a more holistic approach and consider all of the “active compounds” in a plant?
The stage for finding “the ingredient” was set long ago when scientists first discovered that vitamin C could prevent scurvy. Sure, oranges and lemons are a great source of vitamin C, but a vitamin C pill is a much more direct way of preventing scurvy and doesn’t shrivel up after weeks onboard ship. While the effect of such a discovery is far-reaching with obvious health benefits, the concept of using the pharmaceutical model in nutritional science-a single-isolated-compound approach-is counterintuitive. Nutritional science was founded on the principles of a holistic approach to healthcare-the very notion that there are many active constituents in the whole plant working synergistically together to derive a specific health benefit. Therefore, taking a multiple-compound instead of a single-magic-bullet approach to the treatment and prevention of disease will not only bring the industry back to its roots but may also be the key to the future. Let us consider some interesting examples of the whole-food footprint versus the isolated compound.
In 1994, a Finnish study, cosponsored by the U.S. National Cancer Institute, reported that the rate of lung cancer among 29,000 well-nourished smokers who were fed beta-carotene supplements for six years was 18% higher than that of smokers who did not take the supplement. They also found that their overall death rate was 8% higher. Yet, there are numerous studies showing that individuals with the highest rates of beta-carotene intake have a one-third lower risk of death from cancer.
Although there were many design flaws and inaccurate conclusions drawn from the Finnish study, one question still stood, “Could it be that taking a supplement of just beta-carotene alone is not as beneficial as eating a food or supplement that contains a variety of carotenoids as found in nature?” One such product, Betatene from Cognis (La Grange, IL), contains not only beta-carotene, but alpha-carotene, lutein, zeaxanthin, and cryptoxanthin. These five carotenoids are often found together in nature and therefore get consumed at the same time. This is an example of a whole-food footprint rather than a single isolated compound, which potentially has a better result for the consumer.
Another example of this kind of multiple-compound versus single-compound effect is vitamin E. There is a lot of research on the benefits of taking vitamin E supplements and much of it has focused on alpha-tocopherol. Now, it turns out that there are several members of the vitamin E family, which appear to have very significant and important therapeutic benefits compared with alpha-tocopherol alone.
There are four types of tocopherols and tocotrienols: alpha, beta, gamma, and delta. Recent research has discovered that taking too much vitamin E as alpha-tocopherol may actually impair the benefits of gamma- tocopherol in the body. New data indicate that gamma-tocopherol may have certain benefits in cancer prevention, inflammation response, and nitric oxide production. Still, more research is being done on tocotrienols and their benefits as antioxidants and anticarcinogenics, and in the prevention of cardiovascular diseases.
Here again, we have an instance in which nature delivers at least eight different compounds, and yet for years the focus has been on alpha-tocopherol, apparently to the detriment of gamma-tocopherol and tocotrienols. The branded ingredient, NuTriene, produced by Eastman (Kingsport, TN), which contains a mixture of tocopherols and tocotrienols, is yet another example of a holistic footprint approach to raw-material production.
Another positive example of the whole-food footprint used in our industry versus the single-bullet approach used more by the pharmaceutical industry is the use of bitter orange versus synephrine. Bitter orange (Citrus aurantium) contains five different amines (synephrine, octopamine, tyramine, n-methyltyramine, and hordenine) along with eight different bioflavonoids (rutin, naringin, hesperidin, noehesperidin, quercetin, naringenin, hesperitin, and tangeretin). Unfortunately, the single ingredient found in bitter orange that is often used in weight management and sports nutrition products is synephrine HCl, a synthetic single ingredient.
Most of the research into the effects of bitter orange on weight management and sports nutrition has been conducted using Advantra Z from Nutratech (Wayne, NJ), which contains not just the natural form of the single ingredient, synephrine, but all 13 compounds that exist naturally in the whole bitter orange fruit. The research shows that it is the collective combination of all five of the synergistic adrenergic amines along with the influence of the bioflavonoids as they exist in nature that is responsible for the fruit’s optimal thermogenic activity. Therefore, Advantra Z is a perfect example of preserving the whole-food footprint rather than attempting to isolate a single ingredient that may not be as beneficial as the whole plant.
Providing products that deliver a more “nature-like” sequence of compounds may prove to be a better path for our industry to traverse. The natural-products industry is looking to the future and searching for its identity. Trying to become more “drug-like” may be more detrimental than helpful. The long-term identity of our industry should be based upon the science found in nature to improve the health of our customers. Isolating single ingredients has proven to be problematic at times, and the benefits of a broader chemical footprint are evident. There are many instances in which using a standardized whole-food footprint will have far greater benefits to our customers, and in turn, to the bottom line. Consider your raw material choices carefully.