Functional foods: Functional foods are part of a normal dietary food intake for optimized nutrition. The Functional Food Center defines “functional foods” as “natural or processed foods that contains known or unknown biologically-active compounds; which, in defined quantitative and qualitative amounts, provide a clinically proven and documented health benefit for the prevention, management, or treatment of chronic disease”.
One of the principles of Hippocrates, an ancient Greek physician, was “let food be your medicine and medicine be your food”. This principle emphasizes the importance of a well-balanced diet for good health. Still, there is a general agreement that diet is related to health, well being, and prevention of disease. The discovery of vitamins and minerals in the early 1900’s explained the deficiency disorders like scurvy, rickets, and beriberi.
Nowadays, over-nutrition is prevailing. Diseases like coronary heart disease, obesity, cancer, and diabetes have become chronic. Research in 1990’s has recognized that certain nutrients have potent biological effects in addition to their nutritional value. This recognition created an interest in studying the effects of micronutrients and other biologically active food ingredients on diseases. Functional foods include potent agents that induce health benefits in addition to their nutritional value. Some examples of such food ingredients are lycopene in tomatoes, which reduce the risk for cancer, and phytosterols in benecol margarine, which reduce cholesterol levels, thus reducing risk of coronary heart disease.
Nutrition Related Diseases and Relevant Functional Foods: Majority of the functional foods are designed to alleviate the problem health-related diseases developed due to over consumption. Most bioactive food ingredients are originated from plants and belong to phytochemicals. Some bioactive food ingredients are derived from animals, for instance, omega-3 fatty acids from fish.
Cancer: Diet has a major influence in cancer prevention. The World Cancer Research Fund and the American Institute for Cancer Research have examined the effect of nutrition on cancer incidences in a large study and on a global scale. The study summarized that approximately 30% of the cancer cases could be reduced by changing dietary habits. More consumption of fruits and vegetables and less meat and dairy products can prevent cancer.
The major focus of cancer research in the past was on cancer diagnosis and treatment. Only in recent years, more effort is being put on cancer prevention or how to reduce cancer risk. Studies are being performed on the effect of nutraceuticals on different types of cancer. The main application of functional foods in cancer prevention is focused on the activity of particular enzymes. Different phases of cancer have different roles for the food ingredients to act as cancer reducing agents, like decreasing toxifying or increasing detoxifying enzymes in initiation phase, inhibiting cell multiplication, or inducing apoptosis in promotion phase and invasion of cancer cells in progression phase. Dietary fiber is recommended to reduce the incidence of colon cancer. It accelerates the speed of passing of food through the colon, thereby reducing the exposure time to carcinogens that lead to the production of short chain fatty acids, which are beneficial and essential with potential protective effects against cancer. In addition, dietary fibers from vegetables and fruits have anti-oxidative properties. All carotenoids have the potential to act as antioxidants and protect cells from free radicals.
Cardiovascular Disease: Cardiovascular diseases (CVD) are the most common cause of death in Western, industrialized nations. The underlying reason for CVD is atherosclerosis, or the narrowing of arteries due to deposition of cholesterol within artery walls, thus, blood flow is restricted. Phytosterols are plant compounds, which due to their similarity with cholesterol, compete with cholesterol for intestinal uptake and reduce LDL levels. Furthermore, substances that are known to reduce the risk for CVD are omega-3 fatty acids, which occur in cold-water sea fish.
Diabetes: Diabetes mellitus is one of the most common endocrine disorders. Prospective studies have observed reduced diabetes risk with high cereal fiber and whole grain consumption. The benefits of increased fiber intake result from the greater consumption of soluble forms of fiber, due to effects on gastric emptying, macronutrient absorption, and reduced postprandial glucose response. Cinnamon extracts containing polyphenol type-A polymers have demonstrated insulin-mimetic properties. In vitro and in vivo animal studies have reported strong insulin-like or insulin-potentiating effects after cinnamon administration.
Obesity: Obesity is characterized by an increase in body mass index (BMI). Obesity is the fifth leading risk for global deaths. In both developed and developing countries, obesity has become an epidemic and has increased due to both extrinsic factors such as control of ambient temperature, decreased physical activity, increased sedentariness, availability of cheap and high-calorie foods, as well as intrinsic factors such as genetic, epigenetic, and developmental factors. The management is achieved by bioactive functional food ingredients that modulate molecular pathways and gene/protein expressions in a beneficial way, along with calorie restriction and exercise. Dietary proteins may play an important role in regulating human metabolism. Colonized in the gut of humans and certain animals, probiotics promote gastrointestinal health and play a role in regulating the host metabolic processes, weight gain, and obesity. Investigation on anti-obesity action of dietary polyphenolic extracts suggested that they inhibit pre-adipocyte to adipocyte differentiation, cause adipocyte apoptosis, decrease fat absorption from gut, uptake of glucose by skeletal muscles, suppress lipid biosynthesis, and promote catabolism in adipose, liver, and other tissues.
Neurological Diseases: Neurological disorders are diseases of the brain, spine, and the nerves that connect them. There are more than 600 diseases of the nervous system, such as brain tumors, epilepsy, Parkinson's disease, Alzheimer’s disease, and stroke. The basic symptoms that are common among all neurological conditions include differences in speech patterns, loss of balance and coordination, numbness in a single extremity, weakness, memory loss, difficulty in moving, tremors, rigid muscles, and difficulty in swallowing.
Parkinson’s disease is a common neurological disorder, affecting 1% of the people over the age of 60 years. It is a disease with signs of rigidity, resting tremor and postural instability, which is due to underproduction of the neurotransmitter dopamine. L-DOPA (levodopa) therapy has improved the clinical status of the patients with Parkinson’s disease. The fava bean is one of the best plant sources of L-DOPA. Clinical studies have shown that seed sprouts have anti-Parkinson’s effects without any of the side effects seen in the pure synthetic form.
Alzheimer’s disease is a progressive and fatal disease of the brain. It is a degenerative disease of the brain that leads to a condition called dementia. Various studies suggest that taking certain antioxidant supplements or eating antioxidant-rich functional foods may help prevent the disease or help the patients with the disease. It has been known that fruit and vegetable juices containing phenolic compounds can reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease. A 2005 study reported that high doses of epigallocatechin-3-gallate (EGCG), an ingredient in green tea, significantly reduced the formation of beta-amyloid proteins in the brain in Alzheimer’s patients. Curcumin, a spice compound derived from the rootstalk of the turmeric plant, decreases inflammation and reactive oxygen species. The compound also inhibits the aggregation of troublesome beta-amyloid strands among the nerve cells.
International Conferences on Functional Foods and Bioactive Compounds: Since 1998, the Functional Food Center (FFC) has been a pioneer in functional food industry, combining cutting-edge expertise in the biomedical sciences with practical business experience in order to aid in further research, development, and commercialization of functional food innovations in both domestic and international markets. The FFC connects a global network of professionals (scientists, functional food experts, and food industry representatives) to an environment conducive to innovative research collaboration.
Since 2004, the Functional Food Center has organized conferences where scientists, researchers, and food industry professionals present their research and discoveries about functional foods and bioactive compounds for the management of chronic diseases such as diabetes, CVD, obesity, cancer, etc. In the past, the FFC has organized conferences jointly with top level universities such as the University of California (Los Angeles, California), Texas Women’s University (Denton, Texas), Kyoto Prefectural University (Kyoto, Japan), University of California (Santa Barbara, California), Southern Methodist University (Dallas, Texas), Southern University Agricultural Research and Extension Center (Baton Rouge, Louisiana), University of San Diego (San Diego, California), University of Nevada (Las Vegas, Nevada), and more.
In 2014, the Functional Food Center has organized 3 International Conferences in the series “Functional Foods, Bioactive Compounds, and Chronic Diseases”:
1. 15th International Conference of FFC - 3th International Symposium of ASFFBC: Mental, Neurological and other Chronic Disorders: Bio-markers, Bioactive Compounds, and Functional Foods on May 10-11, 2014, University of Regensburg, Regensburg, Germany. Click the banner for final conference program:
2. 16th International Conference of FFC - 4th International Symposium of ASFFBC: Functional Foods, Bioactive Compounds and Biomarkers: Research and Practical Application on July 26-27, 2014, Chengdu, Sichuan, China. More details:
3. 17th International Conference of FFC - 5th International Symposium of ASFFBC: Discovery, Utilization, and Control of Bioactive Components and Functional Foods on November 18-19, 2014, University of San Diego, San Diego, California, USA. More details:
Please let us know if you would like to attend these conferences and/or provide an oral or poster presentation. Send us your resume if you are willing to become a conference organizing committee member for the 16th or 17th International Conferences.
By Rohini Pindiprolu, Reagan Richter, and Danik Martirosyan