Functional Foods/Food Chemistry
What are functional Foods?
2500 years ago Hippocrates said "Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food"- wise words, and perhaps the first reference to the potential health benefits that foods can offer. In the latter half of the last century, scientists began identifying physiologically active components in food (phytochemicals in plants, and zoochemicals in animals) that were bioactive and could influence health. By the 1990s, with an ageing health conscious population in western society, the science and commercial markets coalesced to create the trend we now know as functional foods. A good definition of a functional food is a food product containing components that provide demonstrable physiological benefits or reduce the risk of chronic disease, above and beyond their basic nutritional functions.
Functional food research at Ourimbah
There are three main strands of research into functional foods presently being conducted at Ourimbah. One involves folic acid, particularly it's bioavailability, physico-chemical properties and nutrient-nutrient interactions. Genetic aspects are also being studied, but are discussed in the molecular nutrition section above. The second major area of functional food research is into green tea catechins. These are natural bioactive molecules in tea that have potent antioxidant properties, and also reduce cholesterol levels. Both these areas are being actively pursued at Ourimbah, and both have relevance as functional foods to lower the risk of heart disease in humans; Indeed, determination of the prevalence heart disease risk factors in the local population is an important interest of Drs Roach, Veysey and Lucock.
The final area of functional foods that are being studied in this Research Group relate to probiotics. Pre- and probiotic functional foods such as yoghurts and other over the counter products have the potential to improve intestinal mucosal defences and therefore reduce the risk of intestinal infections by either altering our immune response against pathogens, or beneficially modifying the composition/metabolic activity of the gut microflora so that it can better antagonise pathogens. Specific research projects are looking at the interaction of gut microbiota with human and animal hosts and their role in health with respect to: novel probiotic bacteria and how they affect body systems; links between disease and gut microbiota, in particular allergy, autism and other neurological disorders; development of oral vaccines using food-based adjuvants.