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A new Science Called Nutrigenomics

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Professor Claims Coffee Is The Leading Antioxidant Molecule in the American Diet

The leading causes of death in four out of 10 cases in the United States are diet related," said Joe A. Vinson, Ph.D., speaking at a symposium, Nutrigenomics: The New Science of Genes, Nutrition, and Health, as reported by The National Coffee Association. "It's well known that an increased consumption of fruits and beverages leads to a decreased risk of chronic disease such as heart disease, stroke, diabetes and cancer."

Dr. Vinson is professor in the department of chemistry at the University of Scranton in Scranton, Pa. The educational event was held here to introduce science writers to nutrigenomics, the new study of how foods affect our genes and how individual genetic differences affect the way we respond to nutrients in foods.

The chemist said that chronic diseases cost our society over $200 billion per year in medical costs and lost productivity. He explained, "These diseases have a pathology that is initiated by free radicals. Recent epidemiology has shown that polyphenols consumed in foods may be the major agents responsible for their health benefits - not the antioxidant vitamins C and E as we'd all originally assumed. Unfortunately, measuring individual phenolic compounds is a difficult if not impossible task, due to the very large number -- it's 8,000 and growing -- of these compounds in plants. And that's just one of the obstacles we encounter.

"We accepted the challenge," Dr. Vinson said. "Our research group used market samples of common fruits, vegetables, spices, nuts, grains, oils and beverages to determine the total amount of phenols in foods and beverages using an analysis that measures the extract's antioxidant activity. We also measured the quality of antioxidants in foods and beverages by means of an in vitro 'heart disease in a test tube' model."

Dr. Vinson told the group that foods and beverages are better antioxidants than are antioxidant vitamins. He noted, "With the polyphenol content data and the USDA database of per capita food consumption, the contribution of each type of food to the average estimated intake of phenolic antioxidants was calculated for 2003. Total per capita phenolic antioxidants in the United States diet was 2.2 g. Polyphenols are the major antioxidants in foods and beverages, with the vitamins primarily being minor contributors. The beverage group produced the largest percentage of the total per capita intake of phenolic antioxidants -- totaling 49 percent.

"Coffee was the largest single contributor on a daily basis for the average American, contributing 31% of the total daily antioxidants. Coffee is high in phenolic acids and chlorogenic acid, and is the number one antioxidant molecule in the American diet," the professor explained.

"But do high polyphenol foods and beverages act as antioxidants in the body?" he asked. "Coffee given to humans increases plasma antioxidant capacity, and the polyphenol metabolites act as antioxidants at the level of low density lipoprotein (LDL), decreasing its oxidizability, a possible benefit for slowing down the atherosclerosis process and lowering the risk of heart disease. Recent studies have shown that milk drunk in coffee does not inhibit the absorption of polyphenols in a cell and animal experiment, although recent research suggests that milk in tea interferes with biological effect and presumably antioxidant absorption. Other high polyphenol foods such as tea, chocolate and red wine have the same effects on plasma antioxidant capacity and LDL oxidation."

Dr. Vinson said that polyphenols, including those in coffee, can also affect oxidative stress by acting both directly as antioxidants and indirectly by affecting cell signaling and gene expression. He concluded, "Polyphenols have antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, anti-proliferative, anti-angiogenic, antithrombic and vasorelaxive properties, which can affect disease and its pathology."

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