Palm fruit ingredient cuts diabetes, shows cognitive, gut benefits in rat model

By Hank Schultz

- Last updated on GMT

Phenolaeis photo.
Phenolaeis photo.

Related tags Palm oil palm fruit ingredients Blood sugar management

A palm fruit ingredient sourced from Mexico depressed the rate of Type 2 diabetes and showed interesting cognitive and gut microbiome effects in a recent rat study, the manufacturer says.

The ingredient, called Palm Fruit Bioactives, or PFB, is manufactured by Phenolaeis, a company based in Cambridge, MA, in partnership with Grupo AIEn, a large Mexican CPG firm. The raw material is sourced from a palm oil plantation in Chiapas, the most southerly province of Mexico.

Awards finalist

The ingredient was a finalist in the recent 2019 NutraIngredients-USA awards in the Healthy Aging category​.  It is an example of a ‘debut’ that was many years in the making.

Phenolaeis was established in 2011 and was granted a worldwide license by the Malaysian Palm Oil Board (MPOB) to a portfolio of patents related to the isolation, formulation and methods of use of a water-soluble material produced from the fruit of the oil palm tree. Kevin Ohashi, PhD, CEO of Phenolaeis, said the water-soluble Palm Fruit Bioactives Complex (PFBc) produced from the fruit of the oil palm tree has been subjected to extensive scientific study over the past 15 years. The fundamental technology development was led by MPOB which worked in collaboration with scientists from world-renowned universities and institutions such as MIT (Cambridge, MA), Brigham and Women’s Hospital (Boston, MA), Brandeis University (Boston, MA), Wayne State University (Detroit, MI), and CSIRO in Australia.

 In December 2017, Phenolaeis completed a Joint Venture Partnership with Entorno Agroforestal and Evergreen Health to form Phenolaeis Mexico S.A.P.I. de C.V.

Effect in rat model of diabetes

In the most recent research on the ingredient, PFB was used in a rat diabetes model.  The study, which was published last week in the journal Scientific Reports​, used the Nile (or African) Grass Rat (Arvicanthis niloticus​) as the test species.  This type of rodent readily develops metabolic syndrome when fed a fiber free, high carbohydrate diet or even when fed standard rat chow.  The species’ wild distribution is mostly in the Sahel savannah region south of the Sahara Desert.  Though there is reportedly little data on the rats in their natural environment, they are presumed to subsist on plant material that is very low in carbohydrate and high in cellulosic fibers.

In any case, the use of this model for Type 2 diabetes studies has been well established and seems more elegant than approaches using other kinds of lab rats that include high fat diets and the use of streptozotocin, alkylating antineoplastic agent derived from the pancreases of various mammals. 

 In the recent study that was supported by Malaysian Palm Oil Board, researchers from MIT, Brandeis University and the palm oil group used PFB in an effort to see if the ingredient could improve cognitive and gut health measures in these rats. Type 2 diabetes in humans has been associated with the worsening or the heightened risk of a number of conditions including Alzheimer’s disease.

PFB cut diabetes rate by 45%

The study included 39 rats that had just been weaned at 3 weeks of age.  Of these, 21 were placed in the high carb/low fiber diet group as controls, while 18 were fed the same diet (60:20:20 carbohydrates, fats, and protein) with 10% PFB added at a dose the researchers characterized as 4.7 mg GAE/g (GAE = gallic acid equivalents).

The test ran for 8 weeks.  In the control group 12 of 21 rats, or 57%, developed Type 2 diabetes.  In the test group, only 6 of 18, or 33% of the rats developed the condition. That represents a 45% reduction of the rate of Type 2 diabetes, the researchers said.

PFB boosts enzyme associated with neurotransmitters

In addition to the gross measure of diabetes rates, the researchers looked at some measures of cognitive effects and gut health benefits.  In the case of cognitive effects, the researchers found that PFB supplementation, while it cut the rat of diabetes substantially, did not affect some measures neurodegenerative processes such as beta-amyloid deposits, tangles of phosphorylated tau, or alpha-synuclein deposits. But they did make an unexpected discovery.

“A novel finding is that diet supplementation with 10% PFB significantly increased the level of tyrosine hydroxylase in the basal ganglia of all Nile rat brains, independent of diabetic status. This increase in brain tyrosine hydroxylase is a novel and potentially significant finding unique to PFB,”​ the researchers noted.

Tyrosine hydroxylase is a rate limiting enzyme associated with the synthesis of neurotransmitters.  The researchers said the next step would be to look specifically if PFB boosts the levels of such as dopamine, norepinephrine and epinephrine.

Rats with PFB had heavier guts

The researchers also found the PFB supplementation boosted the average weight of the cecum (a portion of the intestine) of the test animals. There was also an observed shift in the bacteriodies/firmicutes ratio. This result also needs further investigation, they said, but could have important implications of the gut/brain axis variety.

Kevin Ohashi, PhD, CEO of Phenolaeis, said the ingredient’s unique features mean this two pronged research approach, looking at blood measures and effects in the gut, makes sense.

“We believe there is a synergy between the fiber components and the phenolics of our extract,”​ he said.

“The research has shown there is a nice correlation between metabolic health and cognitive health measures.  Whether there are two different mechanism or two sides of the same mechanism is something that needs more research,”​ Ohashi added.

Source:Scientific Reports
Article number: 18625 (2019)
Palm Fruit Bioactives augment expression of Tyrosine Hydroxylase in the Nile Grass Rat basal ganglia and alter the colonic microbiome
Authors: Weinberg RP, et al.

On the show floor

The Malaysian Palm Oil Council will have more information about palm oil ingredients at Booth 3475​ at the upcoming Expo West trade show in Anaheim CA.

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