In an earlier story in this series on antioxidants, NutraIngredients-USA spoke with experts on the science behind these ingredients. It has been five years since the United States Department of Agriculture shut down its database listing the ORAC values of foods and food ingredients. The reason given was that marketers were misusing the values, and equating higher values with greater health potential without underlying science to back that claim. While it makes objective sense that an ingredient with an ORAC value ten times or greater than a competing ingredient might soak up more free radicals in the body, this has never been demonstrated in vivo.
ORAC represented an oversimplification
But these experts agree that it was probably always a gross oversimplification of the relative quality and potential health benefits of ingredients. It was perhaps akin to trying to judge a car’s quality and suitability for a certain task based solely on the number of cylinders in its engine. But that doesn’t mean that ORAC values were frivolous measures, merely that they had perhaps been misused. And overused.
For marketers of ingredients with high antioxidant activity such as, for example, grape seed extracts and cranberry ingredients, the answer to this conundrum is to focus on the specific benefits of the products and let the antioxidant potential of the products provide an unspoken, healthful halo around the marketing message.
Redox reactions are key part of life
Dr James Kennedy PhD, president of Polyphenolics, said oxidation and antioxidant activity is a proven part of biochemistry and as such is never going to go away, regardless of what the USDA might do. Polyphenolics markets a line of grape seed extracts under the MegaNatural brand name.
“To the extent that we as humans are constantly dealing with oxidative stress then the term ‘antioxidant’ will always have meaning.At the cellular level, there is a strong desire to maintain ‘redox homeostasis,’ the process of maintaining an oxidative balance within our cells.When we deviate from homeostasis on the oxidative side, our cells generate reactive oxygen species (ROS),” Kennedy told NutraIngredients-USA.
The long term effects of high levels of ROS in the body is inflammation, cellular damage and ultimately nascent disease states leading to cancer, cardiovascular disease, neurodegenerative diseases and more, Kennedy said. The body has built in mechanisms to deal with these states, such as glutathione redox pathway, but lifestyle and diet choices, stress and other factors can overtax these defenses. While a marketer can no longer claim that their ultra-high ORAC value ingredient will resolve these conditions, it still is true that botanical ingredients can have beneficial effects in this area. And drilling down to methods of action that have been demonstrated in vivo can help tell this story, rather than quoting the flashy ORAC value and leaving it at that. ORAC, after all, was never more than a value obtained from a standard bench top test.
“Eliminating the ROS that leads to inflammation can be important in maintaining long term health.There is no question that certain botanicals and extracts can be effective at reducing ROS.Supplementation with grape seed extracts such as MegaNatural – Gold for example, has been shown to reduce the concentration of oxidation markers that lead to inflammation.They are able to do this because MegaNatural – Gold contains an abundance of vicinal dihydroxy-substituted phenolics which are extremely effective at reacting with ROS,” Kennedy said.
Stalking horse for adulteration
For Stephen Lukawski, director of global sales and product development for Fruit d’Or, the term ‘antioxidant’ has been not just misused, but has been a potential entrée into adulteration. Fruit d’ Or supplies a range of dietary supplement and food ingredients from cranberries and blueberries.
“The word antioxidant is misused by various companies who are taking advantage of this word in their marketing practices. Putting traces of antioxidants in food or beverages and calling it a source of antioxidants is deceptive and most misleading to consumers. This is a form of adulteration which causes damage to the credibility of our industry and creates lack of trust among consumers,” Lukawski said.
Lukawski said in the case of Fruit d'Or, which really started to ramp up its production and marketing at the same time as ORAC as a marketing term was sounding its death gurgles, the company has always been more focused on the characterization of the polyphenols in its products. While these in theory have antioxidant potential, they also have specific modes of action that have been studied, as with anti-adhesion properties of cranberry ingredients in preventing urinary tract infections. These are solid attributes that his company can market on, Lukawski said.
“We do not measure ORAC value in either our cranberry or blueberry powders. When it comes to cranberry, we measure both soluble and insoluble PACs. When it comes to testing for blueberries, our customers want to know what the percentage of anthocyanins are in blueberry,” he said.
"Our customers want total polyphenols , anthocyanins and proanthocyanidins tested with our cranberry and blueberry ingredients. These seem to be the new buzzwords in our industry that everyone is focused on,” Lukawski said.
Saying goodbye to ORAC proved to be a good thing
So in the end, Kennedy and Lukawski agreed that focusing on the characterization of your product and specific health properties it might have is the way to go. ORAC values were always akin to a flag denoting a military regiment. Having a bigger flag doesn’t mean having a more powerful unit.
“Absolutely this is good for our industry as a whole. We are learning more as an industry from a science perspective and we are incorporating that into the development of our products as well as our marketing. Consumers are the ultimate benefactors of this,” Kennedy said.
“As a formulator, for example, if I know that a specific supplement improves athletic performance, I think it is important to understand the underlying science so that I can formulate with complementarity in mind. Without the understanding that grape seed extracts have antioxidant activity and stimulate endothelium nitric oxide synthase, I run the risk of combining it with ingredients that have the same activity,” he said.
Lukawski also pointed out that ORAC values said nothing about the quality of an ingredient nor the care with which it was manufactured.
“I believe shelving of ORAC is a good move for the industry. What does ORAC value really mean in the end when suppliers of fruit powders can degrade the quality of the material during the harvesting , drying and milling stages of production? . . . Fruit d'Or is a unique company that can offer standardized quality based on the fact that they are vertically integrated,” he said.
Supply Side West plans
Both Polyphenolics and Fruit d’Or will be exhibiting at the Supply Side West trade show in Las Vegas, NV in late September. Polyphenolics, which will exhibit in booth No. U169, plans to highlight the developing science around the applications of MegaNatural–Gold in sports nutrition. As an attraction, the company will feature at its booth former heavyweight boxers Larry Holmes and Gerry Cooney, who faced off in the ring in a highly publicized 1982 title bout.
Fruit d’Or, which will exhibit in booth No. MM121, plans to show how the diversification of its cranberry ingredients can help companies by expanding the effects of the ingredient beyond UTI health indications. The company’s promotional efforts will focus on health categories such as oral care, gut health involving probiotics, IBS involving Taiyo’s branded ingredient Sunfiber, and prostate health involving Graminex's flower pollen extract.