COLLEGE STATION Nutrition: It's not just the four basic food groups any more.
Researcher Dr. Susanne Mertens-Talcott of Texas A&M University is looking into how plant-based phytochemicals, including antioxidants and herbal supplements, can be useful in the promotion of health and prevention of chronic diseases.
This field is still growing. In the U.S. more than $20 billion was spent on dietary supplements in 2005, said Talcott, who is in a joint research and teaching position with the department of nutrition and food science and the department of veterinary physiology and pharmacology.
"Over $7 billion was spent on herbal dietary supplements in 2005." These supplements are plant-based, including grape seed extract, St. John's wort, ginseng and biloba extract, she added.
"In addition to that there is the segment of so-called 'functional foods,' including antioxidant foods for example, fruit juices and beverages and grain-based products," Talcott said.
The amount spent on these foods each year "has increased drastically; however, we do not know yet how efficacious these different antioxidants really are in the prevention of chronic diseases such as cardiovascular disease and cancer," she said. "We also do not know very much about the mechanisms, which appear to include antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects of these phytochemicals."
This can be important to health since these reactive oxygen species or 'free radicals' may play a role in some diseases, including Alzheimer's, cancer and atherosclerosis, she said.
"However, other mechanisms, including the prevention of chronic inflammation and interaction with intracellular mechanisms, may be as important in the prevention of chronic diseases," she said. But are they safe? Are they efficient? How much is required? And how much is too much? Talcott is looking for the answers to these questions through her research.
Contact: Dr. Susanne Talcott
Texas A&M University - Agricultural Communications