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Functional foods

Recent advances in biotechnology have increased the possibilities to make food components with improved properties. Enzymatic methods are used to tailor-make lipids containing health-promoting fatty acids, such as omega-3 fatty acids. The research concerns both alfa-linolenic acid, an omega-3 fatty acid mainly originating from plants, and the long chain omega-3 fatty acids of marine origin. The department is involved in one project within the FUNCFOOD program organised by the Functional Food Science Centre at Lund University. The PhD student Julia Svensson is jointly supervised by Patrick Adlercreutz concerning enzymatic production of lipids and by Åke Nilsson and Lena Ohlsson at the Medical Faculty concerning physiological effects of those lipids. The project concerns lipids rich in alfa-linolenic acid. There is evidence that the preferential oxidation of alfa-linolenic acid may be beneficial in obesity and diabetes. This fatty acid can be converted to long-chain omega-3 fatty acids and therefore be beneficial in counteracting cardiovascular disease. Starting from natural fats and oils such as rapeseed oil, linseed oil and butter oil, enzymes are used as catalysts for making new products with the aim to optimise the health promoting properties of alfa-linolenic acid.

All aerobic organsims are exposed to reactive oxygen species (hydrogen peroxide, superoxide radicals, hydroxyl radicals, etc.), which can damage vital biomolecules, such as DNA, lipids and proteins. In order to cope with this, the organisms protect themselves in different ways, and one important way is by low molecular weight antioxidants, which are often obtained from the diet. It has been shown that fruits and vegetables promote human health and antioxidants are supposed to play an important role. In this project the ability of antioxidants to protect important biomolecules is evaluated. Effects on DNA and its building blocks have been studied earlier in the project and during 2006 the work focused on protection of proteins, especially the enzyme chloroperoxidase. This is an enzyme that catalyses a wide range of interesting reactions, but its practical utility is limited by its poor operational stability. It was discovered that antioxidants efficiently protected the enzyme and thus prolonged its lifetime and increased the amounts of reaction products obtained. The most efficient antioxidant was caffeic acid, which is found in relatively large amounts in coffee.