Nutraceutical beverages against metabolic syndrome

UNAM students win second place at Food Processing International Congress
The awarded students with Raquel Gómez Pliego (second, left to right). Photo: Justo Suárez.
Leonardo Huerta Mendoza
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A group of students of the Industrial Chemistry undergraduate program at the Faculty of Higher Education (FES) Cuautitlan – led by professor Raquel Gomez Pliego – won second place at the IV International Congress on Innovation and Trends in Food Processing, as well as in the XIX National Congress on Food Sciences and Technologies, with their work “Nutraceutical fermented beverages made from kombucha fungus and its potential use in treating metabolic syndrome.”

Both congresses, organized by the University of Guanajuato and the Autonomous University of Nuevo Leon, from May 17 to May 19, gathered in Zacatecas students and researchers from 22 study centers all around the country.

Metabolic syndrome is a group of risk factors related to insulin resistance: central obesity, hyperglycemia (high blood sugar) dyslipidemia (high level of lipids) and hypertension. Three of these factors increase the probability of suffering diabetes mellitus type 2,” said Gomez Pliego.

This disease occurs when the pancreas cannot produce enough insulin ( a hormone which regulates the amount of sugar in the blood) or when the body is unable to use the insulin produced. High sugar levels can cause severe damages to the heart, eyes, kidneys, blood vessels and nerves.

For their beverages, the college students used a mixture of bacteria and yeast known as kombucha or SCOBY (symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast), which has been used in China for almost four thousand years.

“Kombucha is formed by acetic bacteria and Saccharomyces yeast. Analyses show there are bacteria in this mixture with similar general characteristics to those of probiotic strains,” explains Samanta Gonzalez Telles, one of the prize-winning students.

The students proposed the elaboration of fermented kombucha beverages to Gomez Pliego. She accepted to lead their project and through biotechnology – her specialty area – they focused on the metabolic syndrome and diabetes type 2.

“Kombucha is mostly used in green and black tea, but I thought it would be important to innovate and use medicinal plants with properties that help decrease cellular inflammation and hypoglycemia. This where the idea of nutraceutical beverages came from,” she says.

Nutraceutical foods not only provide nutrients to the organism, they also have an overall beneficial effect on our health. The beverages elaborated by the students have probiotics and prebiotics. The goal is for prebiotic fibers to capture glucose molecules in our bloodstream and dispose of them.

Probiotics are living organisms (bacteria and yeast) which improve health upon consumption. Although, for food to be considered probiotic, it's required that an amount of 108 cells per gram or milliliter reach the gastrointestinal tract.

“This means they have the ability to resist the acidic pH of our stomach and live in our gastrointestinal tract,” adds Gomez Pliego.

Prebiotics are nondigestible, thus intake shouldn't exceed 15 or 20 grams per day.

“If taken in high amounts, there is a risk of them trapping the nutrients and rendering them useless. That is why we mix them with probiotics,” remarks the scientist.

Four Plants
After experimenting with several plants, the students chose four plants with antiseptic and anti-inflammatory properties: arnica, cardamom, turmeric, and clove.

They have four beverages with different ingredient combinations, yet the one panelists enjoyed the most was the arnica and cardamom one, due to its fresh taste, smell and consistency.

“During fermentation, several compounds are produced, such as antioxidants, polyphenols, catechins, flavonols, and flavonoids, which help regulate appetite and decrease pain and nausea. We think this is precisely their added value,” says Gomez Pliego.

“Arnica is considered a toxic compound, unsuitable for ingestion, yet it's due to fermentation that its toxic substances degrade and there is no risk of toxicity. Furthermore, the dose of arnica used in our beverages is very low,” points out the professor.

Several fermentation reactions are made to reduce the astringent flavor of the beverages and provide them with a pleasant taste and aroma. They are still conducting tests to reveal the effect of their beverages on biochemical variables associated with diabetes type 2, yet preliminary data shows they indeed contain a hypoglycemic effect.

“We performed a microbiological analysis pursuant to Official Mexican Standard NOM-086-SSA1-1994, which showed our beverages meet the quality requirements established therein, contain no alcohol, are free of pathogens and are suitable for human consumption,” explained Adrian Olivares, another member of the group.

To obtain the approval of the Secretariat of Health in Mexico, the students need to prove their products have no negative side effects. For this reason, they are already making toxicity tests in mice and obesity tests in rats, in partnership with doctor Judith Espinoza Raya, from the Superior School of Medicine, of the National Polytechnic Institute.

“Our beverages have a strong potential to fight metabolic syndrome, and even if our work is yet incomplete, preliminary results show they can help control appetite and regulate sugar concentration in blood. We still have to perform more tests which will allow us to determine, say, their effect on the microbiota in the gastrointestinal tract,” concludes Gomez Pliego.


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