Ethical Naturals: ORAC is still useful, but it's open to abuse

By Elaine Watson

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Oxygen radical absorbance capacity

ORAC-15M is a concentrated extract of grape skin, seed and fruit marketed as "one of the most powerful natural antioxidant ingredients available"
ORAC-15M is a concentrated extract of grape skin, seed and fruit marketed as "one of the most powerful natural antioxidant ingredients available"
California-based Ethical Naturals has weighed into the debate over how best to communicate the benefits of antioxidants following calls from one academic to banish the term from products labels altogether and claims by a top marketer that consumers have ‘checked out’ of the ORAC debate.

The firm, which supplies several antioxidant ingredients including a patented whole grape extract branded ORAC-15M, says the debate about the usefulness or otherwise of ORAC values “had an impact from early on in our attempts to market and sell the product due to the vigorous debate within the scientific community”.

Consumers are only just getting their heads around antioxidants

But sales & marketing director Gabrielle Klein adds: “I don’t think this debate​ [over the difference between what antioxidants do in a test tube vs what they do in the body, or whether the generic term ‘antioxidants’ is actually useful at all] has spilled into the consumer sector just yet. 

“Consumers are just now wrapping their heads around antioxidants as a general category so the nuanced discussion is more prevalent in the scientific community and also has an effect on the manufacturing sector in terms of what will sell.”

ORAC useful tool at the start of the process, not an end in itself

She adds: “ORAC is one of many tools that can be used to find the potential in an ingredient but it should not be the sole tool.”

However, she notes, “When compounds with a high ORAC score have been studied in more depth, both in vitro and in vivo, they have proven to have powerful affects in the body.  This demonstrates that when used responsibly in conjunction with other means of scientific measurement and validation, ORAC is a very useful tool.

“Another is to look at polyphenolic activity of the ingredient. This gives us additional information about the properties of the substance.  All of these marker compounds and measurements will give certain information about the nature of the product and its potential to deliver various benefits throughout the body. 

“This information can then be substantiated by doing in vivo clinical work.”

Marketers are manipulating ORAC scores to make ingredients look better

As for suggestions that ORAC is open to abuse, she acknowledges that it has “become confusing as marketers have manipulated the ORAC measurement in order to enhance the look of their product.

“For instance I just read an article stating that a new compound of tea can provide an ORAC score of 1,700,000.  I was blown away until I read the fine print of the article stating that this is per 100g. 

“ORAC is reported in Trolox Equivalents (TE) per one gram of product tested. Also, it’s not common for a supplement to be consumed in amounts much above 1g. Typically supplements are consumed in mg amounts up to a few grams, depending on the compound."

Always read the small print

But marketers often use a 100g measurement “in order to falsely inflate their numbers​”, she says.

If you take the company’s claim of 1,700,000 ORAC units per 100g and change that to a per gram measurement,  you wind up with a compound that has an ORAC value of 17,000 units/g, not so out of line with other botanicals and teas, and also not nearly as sensational.”

But we shouldn’t throw the baby out with the bathwater, she adds: “Just because ORAC has been manipulated in this way does not negate its usefulness as tool of measurement, or the basic understanding of consumers that something having a good ORAC score will offer some health benefit.

“Also it’s still the only measurement used by the USDA to classify dietary recommendations.  Rather than throwing out this useful tool, the industry and media should discuss ORAC more accurately.”

For ORAC-15M, explains Klein, “We decided to include a polyphenolic measurement in addition to controlling for a minimum ORAC value so that marketers and scientists would have multiple focal points to discuss in relation to antioxidant capacity of the ingredient.​ 

“We are now conducting a clinical trial for ORAC-15M to demonstrate its positive affects in the body.”

Click here​ to read more about the latest Packaged Facts report on products making antioxidant claims.

Click here​ to read about one leading academic's take on antioxidants.

Click here​ to get a consumer perspective from the IFT Wellness 2012 conference last month.

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1 comment

ORAC the end of the process not the beginning

Posted by drdave,

The continued focus on ORAC as the beginning of the process of anti-oxidant biochemistry as Ms Klein calls it is misguided. It completely misses the effects of things like Omega 3's and other anti-inflammatory compounds that may have Zero ORAC values but a tremendous and measurable effect on the end points of decreased inflammation, healthy gene transcription and immune balance inside living humans. this occurs at the true starting point of the inflammatory cascade and basically helps to govern the overall response. ORAC barely scratches the surface and in terms of the inflammatory cascade is as much an end as a starting point.

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