Dr Ken Ng and Dr Ian Larson from Monash University's Faculty of Pharmacy noted that while the body normally produced enough antioxidants to protect it from free radical damage, natural levels were often dangerously low in high-risk individuals such as those at risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease, diabetes, atherosclerosis or those with a poor diet.
To increase the rate of oxygen absorption, the scientists developed “a tiny sponge-like chitosan biopolymeric nanoparticle” that formed a protective vehicle for the antioxidants in the manner of a micro trojan horse.
Except instead of delivering a swarm of marauding soldiers, a swathe of nutrients is dispersed in the body in quantities greater than may have been possible otherwise.
Chitosan is derived from the shells of crustaceans such as shrimp and crabs.
The researchers said antioxidants typically found in the food and food supplements supply chain were often poorly absorbed in the gut, which provoked their research.
"Antioxidants sit within this tiny trojan horse, protecting it from attack from digestive juices in the stomach," Dr Larson said. "Once in the small intestine the nanoparticle gets sticky and bonds to the intestinal wall. It then leaks its contents directly into the intestinal cells, which allows them to be absorbed directly into the blood stream.”"We hope that by mastering this technique, drugs and supplements also vulnerable to the digestive process can be better absorbed by the human body."
Dr Ng said that while the research was in its infancy, human trials were slated for early 2009.
"For catechins – the class of antioxidants under examination and among the most potent dietary antioxidants – only between 0.1 and 1.1 per cent of the amount consumed makes it into our blood,” he said. “If we can improve that rate, the benefits are enormous."
The researchers hoped that nano trojan horses would one day be added to foods and beverages in a similar way to other popular functional ingredients such as omega-3s and probiotics.
Research presented at the IFT International Food Nanoscience Conference in New Orleans recently found nanoemulsions containing bioactive compounds such as curcumin or antioxidants like lycopene could reduce the growth and spread of cancer cells by more than 70 per cent.
Nanoemulsions created using a high-pressure microfluidiser have led to the reduction in the size and growth of cancer cells in lab animals.
To see a NutrIngredients.com story on that research click here.