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Endothelial health presents new avenue for polyphenols, experts say

By Hank Schultz , 07-Sep-2012
Last updated the 29-Oct-2012 at 22:23 GMT

Millions of American suffer from a stealthy condition.  When things go wrong in the endothelium, that thin layer of cells lining the blood vessels things go south in a hurry:  high blood pressure, atherosclerotic lesions, plaques and full blown cardiovascular disease.

But how to help customers who show no symptoms­–and who don’t know what the word endothelium means in the first place–is the challenge that scientists, product formulators and marketers working in the field face. And a further challenge: how to communicate benefits without running afoul of regulators.

It’s a huge challenge (and a big opportunity) and one that is growing.

“Cardiovascular health has three or four main reservoirs of illness in the United States. People who have high blood pressure, people who are overweight, people who have metabolic syndrome. That amalgam of people accounts for somewhere between 60 and 70 percent of the population above the age of 20.  That’s a huge number,” C.Tissa Kappagoda, PhD of the University of California Davis told NutraIgredients-USA.

These are the people who will suffer strokes and heart attacks, Dr.Kappagoda said.  And one of the harbingers of these conditions is dysfunction in the endothelium, that thin layer of cells that lines the body’s blood vessels. This layer performs many functions including maintaining the suppleness of blood vessels and regulating the activity of neutrophils, white blood cells that form a key part of the immune system.

It all starts in the endothelium

Dysfunction in the endothelium leads to arteries with little suppleness, contributing to high blood pressure, and arteries that are chronically inflamed, leading to an overabundance of adhesion molecules.  A little bit of prevention here can go a long way, like the Spartans pinching off the Persians at the pass, holding back a tidal wave of disease.

“There is a lot being learned at endothelial function right now because there are a lot of cardiovascular scientists who are looking much more carefully within those cells. They’re learning a lot that there are things they can do within those cells, possibly upregulating certain proteins that could possibly mitigate diseases that are connected to endothelial dysfunction,” said Alex Schauss. PhD, CEO of AIBMR, a Seattle-based scientific and regulatory consultancy.

Endothelial health is gaining more visibility with the product formulation community. One of the sessions at the recent Institute of Food Technologists show in Las Vegas in June focused on the category as a possible avenue for new health claims.

One of the main catetories of ingredients mentioned in this connection are polyphenols, a class of phytochemicals found in many fruits and vegetables. 

Gertjan den Hartog, PhD of Maastricht University in the Netherlands has studied the polyphenols in grape seed extracts and chocolate and was one of the speakers at the IFT endothelial health session.

I looked up endothelial health just now to see how many hits I get and I see a lot of people are working on this right now,” den Hartog said. “Everything that has to do with cardiovascular health starts in the endothelium. If you can promote the health of this tiny layer of cells you can promote the health of the whole cardiovascular system.”

One of the longtime players in the field is Polyphenolics, a Madera, Calif.-based manufacturer of a propriety grape seed extract branded as MegaNaturalBP. One of the structure-function claims the product bears is “helps maintain healthy endothelial function.”

The MegaNaturalBP ingredient is a broad-spectrum extract featuring a number of compounds of differing activity.  The whole extract has been the subject of a number of studies conducted by Dr. Kappagoda.

Getting past the ORAC fixation

One of the things that Polyphenolics has been moving away from is quoting ORAC values; a trend within industry generally.  Drilling down toward specific benefits such as endothelial health is one of the ways a manufacturer can communicate benefits without getting into an ORAC war, said Anil Shirkhande, PhD, president of Polyphenolics, which is a division of Constellation Brands.

“We are an antioxidant,” said Dr. Shirkhande said. “I think (ORAC) is a good indicator outside the cell, but when it goes inside the cell I don’t how it behaves because you’ve got different fragments there, some of which are more water soluable and so forth.”

It’s a tricky market to reach and will continue to present challenges for the future, said Mike Danielson, director of the health and medical division of Media Relations, a Minneapolis-based marketing consultancy.

“Just saying ‘endothelial,’ it’s a tongue-twister by itself. The consumer doesn’t feel anything. Many of them don’t know their (blood pressure) numbers.”