IRISH SCIENTISTS USING FORTIFIED YOGHURT TO HELP COMBAT EYE DISEASE AND ALZHEIMER’S DISEASE
- 20 years of research culminates in a simple dairy solution to a dietary deficiency
Irish scientists are using yoghurt to make it easier for people to consume a nutrient which may help reduce the risk of both age-related macular degeneration (AMD) and Alzheimer’s disease.
Lutein is an antioxidant and anti-inflammatory xanthophyll carotenoid present in leafy green vegetables and coloured fruits and found in very high amounts at the macula of the human retina (the centre part of the back of the eye) and also in the brain.
While lutein is not a cure for these age-related diseases, published studies are very clear that carotenoids, including lutein, should be used in the management of these diseases.
Significantly, lutein is not made by the body and has to be sourced entirely from diet or from food supplements, and studies are showing that we are not consuming enough lutein as part of our normal diet. This is not just because kale isn’t a big favourite – analysis of leafy green vegetables has shown, over the last 40 years, a drastic reduction in the amount of lutein and other carotenoids present in these foods. Capsule-based nutritional supplements can help, but not everyone is able to take them.
Researchers from the Nutrition Research Centre Ireland (NRCI) in Waterford, under the VistaMilk SFI Research Centre umbrella, have successfully added the new lutein formulation – called FortiXan – to yoghurt. The resulting dairy product will enable people to obtain more of the carotenoid simply and easily and will have the potential to improve human vision and cognitive function.
Commenting on the development, Dr Alfonso Prado-Cabrero of the NRCI confirmed that a human clinical trial has been conducted with the FortiXan yoghurt. “We have proved that the yoghurt effectively delivers the lutein into the bloodstream,” he said.
Professor John Nolan, Principal Investigator at the NRCI explained: “Our research has demonstrated that lutein, along with other carotenoids, is really effective at enhancing vision across all the ages and also for patients with AMD and Alzheimer’s disease .
“Nature wants us to have these carotenoids from a very young age, but the food we are eating is deficient in carotenoids. FortiXan yoghurt is a unique method of delivery that will enable these essential nutrients to reach a wider population group including children and vulnerable individuals who may experience difficulties in swallowing.
“We believe that lutein should be considered as an essential nutrient in everyone’s daily diet and that Fortixan yoghurt should become a valuable source of the nutrient lutein alongside more traditional sources. What we need now is a visionary partner to recognise the importance of what we have discovered and help make it widely available to the general public to enhance their quality of life.”
The NRCI is a multi-disciplinary research group within South East Technological University (SETU) that studies the role of nutrition and lifestyle for human well-being. James O’Sullivan, Head of Innovation and Commercialisation, said: “SETU places great emphasis on research and innovation. The recent breakthrough is a testament to the significant influence our scientists can have on improving societal health issues. Ultimately, commercialising this innovation through an industrial partner will showcase a true achievement.”
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Notes to Editors
The development of FortiXan is the result of years of research into the importance of dietary lutein.
A large random sample research project with 5,000 individuals was carried out identifying that those who consumed higher levels of lutein had enhanced cognitive ability and better reaction times than those who did not.
Collaboration with Professor Ríona Mulcahy, a consultant physician in General and Geriatric Medicine at University Hospital Waterford, revealed that, when age matched, there were striking differences in carotenoid levels of those without dementia compared to those with the disease, Alzheimer’s patients having the lowest.”
A double-blind placebo-controlled trial was also run looking at the introduction of lutein into the diets of those already dealing with dementia. The published results are encouraging from a disease management perspective as those provided with the nutrient were seen to have a better quality of life with improved overall moods and a slowdown in loss of memory compared to those not provided with lutein. It also resulted in better vision results for participants.
NRCI works with industry partners IOSA (Monterrey, Mexico) and The Howard Foundation UK (Cambridge, UK). IOSA is a global leader in the production of lutein, and The Howard Foundation has funded many years of research into the use of xanthophyll carotenoids to improve human vision and cognition. They developed patents that are now held by Maravilla Inc (www.maravillaip.com). Together, they are all working as part of Vistamilk SFI Research Centre to bring the product to market.
 The Role of Nutrition for the Aging Population: Implications for Cognition and Alzheimer’s Disease https://profjohnnolan.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/04/Power-et-al-20191.pdf
Nutritional Intervention to Prevent Alzheimer’s Disease: Potential Benefits of Xanthophyll Carotenoids and Omega-3 Fatty Acids Combined
 The Impact of Formulation on Lutein, Zeaxanthin, and meso-Zeaxanthin Bioavailability: A Randomised Double-Blind Placebo-Controlled Study
VistaMilk SFI Research Centre
Established in 2018, the VistaMilk SFI Research Centre identifies challenges and solves problems for the Irish dairy sector in four specific areas – soil, pasture, cow and food. VistaMilk is a unique collaboration between Agri-Food and information communications technology (ICT) research institutes and leading Irish/multinational food and ICT companies. It is funded by Science Foundation Ireland (SFI) and the Department of Agriculture Food and the Marine (DAFM).
Through strategic collaboration and co-ordination, VistaMilk’s research programme provides an opportunity to acquire, analyse and act upon data to generate a range of recommendations and practical solutions to real and current issues.
VistaMilk’s access to expertise and resources makes it an authoritative voice on a range of topics facing the Irish dairy industry, including sustainability, emissions reduction, and carbon sequestration.
VistaMilk’s projects will enable Irish dairy farmers to develop the sustainable practices that will protect the 18,000 family farms, the 60,000 jobs and the €5bn yearly economic contribution that dairy supports in this country. It will also provide consumers with the reassurance of knowing that the dairy products they buy continue to be both farmed and processed locally.