The research, led by Dr Jae Park at the Beltsville Human Nutrition Research Center's Phytonutrients Laboratory, could lead to a range of food additives and supplements that reduce the risks of heart disease and strokes.
Coronary heart disease (CHD) is characterized by the build up of fat, calcium and protein that form plaque. Fatty plaque can heighten the onset of blood clots, caused by an aggregation of platelets, and lead to heart attacks or strokes.
After excessive screening of different phytochemicals, Park identified N-caffeoyldopamine, N-couraroyldopamine, and their analogs, as the best compounds for further study. These compounds are found naturally in foodstuffs such as cocoa, Chinese wolfberry, and sweet peppers.
Talking to NutraIngredients-USA.com, Dr. Park said: "The plant chemicals I am studying are present in many plants but the quantity of the compounds that is naturally occurring in these plants is unknown. We don't have a good method for extracting large amounts of these compounds as they naturally occur in foods. However, the process of synthesis we are using is not expensive."
The compounds work by inhibiting key reactions that may lead to blood clotting. A cell adhesion molecule, P-selectin, has been identified as a key component in clot formation. It is normally found in endothelial cells and platelets, and is essential to the accumulation of white blood cells (leukocytes) and platelets to the site of an injury.
When added to mouse blood the compounds were found to be potent in disrupting the expression of P-selectin and inhibited platelet-leukocyte interaction.
The potential to supplement and additive makers is clear, and Dr. Park confirmed that progress is being made in this area, too.
"There is still much more work to be done. I am now pursuing a variety of research projects-both with existing food industry partners and future industry partners," said Park.
CHD is the single largest killer of men and women in the US. In 2006 the cost of CHD, both direct and indirect, will be an estimated $ 142.5 billion, according to statistics from the American Heart Association in the journal Circulation (published on-line January 11, 2006.
Further information about Dr. Park's research can be found in the the USDA's Agricultural Research magazine (January 2006, p. 22).