It's Not Always Easy Delivering Greens
by Jennifer Schraag
The color green has been associated with healing throughout history, spanning continents and many religions. Green also signifies new life, growth and regeneration. In the nutraceutical industry, green signifies many big things found in very small packages. The explosive nutritive value found in a microscopic algae equivalent to the size a single human blood cell is what makes them super foods, packing big supplemental punch.
Green foods, commonly termed super foods due to their explosive content of phytonutrients, consist of micro-algae, cereal grasses, land plants, vegetables and seaweed. The two most commonly used in the nutraceutical industry are micro-algae and cereal grasses.
The cereal grasses family features barley, rye, oat, alfalfa, wheat and kamut. Cereal grass is the young green plant which grows to produce the cereal grain. All cereal grasses, including the green leaves of wheat, barley, rye and oats, are nutritionally identical. Most cereal grass is planted in the fall, grown for about 200 days through the winter and harvested in the spring just prior to jointing (the peak of the plants vegetative development). Chlorophyll, protein and most of the vitamins found in cereal grasses reach their peak concentrations in the period just prior to the jointing stage of the green plant. The jointing stage is the point at which the internodal tissue in the cereal grass leaf begins to elongate, forming a stem. After this time, the nutritive value of cereal grass begins to deteriorate.
Researchers have concluded the nutritive value of cereal grass is beneficial in both human and animal life. Oat ingestion was found to have a beneficial influence on endothelial function in overweight, dyslipidemic adults,1 alfalfa contains saponins, which appear to decrease plasma cholesterol without creating a change in HDL levels,2 and wheat grass has been specifically studied in digestive health, and appears to reduce symptoms and disease activity in patients with ulcerative colitis, according to research conducted at the Israel Institute of Technology in Haifa.3 Wheat grass is valued for its concentration of nutrients, which includes over 90 minerals and antioxidants, and is used for purifying and alkalinizing the blood, cleansing the colon, and detoxifying the liver.4
The addition of barley to a healthy diet may be effective in lowering total and LDL cholesterol in both men and women,5 and can reduce cardiovascular risk factors.6 A study conducted at North Dakota State University, Fargo, examined the effect of barley supplementation on forage intake, digestibility, and ruminal fermentation in beef steers fed medium-quality forage.7 The results indicate increased levels of barley supplementation decreased forage intake and increased digestibility patterns. More interestingly, researchers at Hallelujah Acres Foundation in Shelby, N.C., reported supplementation with dehydrated barley grass juice over a four-month period significantly lessened the symptoms of fibromyalgia by improving self-estimated disease impact, flexibility, and shoulder pain at rest and after motion.
Chlorella, spirulina, dunaliella (red algae), Haematococcus and bluegreen algae, also known as aphanizomenon flos-aquae (AFA), all are classified under micro-algae. Both chlorella and spirulina are microscopic plants grown in fresh water. They are called micro-algae since they are microscopic forms of algae and range in size from 2 to 8 microns. Spirulina is one particular kind of blue-green algae with a centuries-long history of safe human consumption.
These super foods are thought to contain every nutrient required by the human body and are extraordinarily nutritionally dense. Over 140 nutrients have been identified in blue-green algae including 68 minerals, said Shannon Hamilton, president of Klamath Falls, Ore.- based Klamath Valley Botanicals LLC (www.klamathvalley.com). Scientists have identified 16 antioxidants, including a whole host of enzymes, and it has all of the amino acids including the amino acids that cannot be made by the body.
The term super foods is appropriate due to the tremendous amount and variety of nutrients. Eating small amounts (as low as 3 g/d to 5 g/d) provides the many vitamins, minerals, enzymes, amino acids, carotenoids, antioxidants, essential fatty acids and phytonutrients the body needs.
Both chlorella and spirulina are packed with enormous health boosting nutrients and phytochemicals. Chlorellaa single-celled watergrown alga containing a nucleus and an enormous amount of readily available chlorophyllcontains protein (approximately 58 percent), carbohydrates, all of the B vitamins (more vitamin B12 than liver), vitamins C and E, amino acids and additional rare trace minerals.8 Spirulina also is a highly-digestible natural source of protein, far surpassing the protein bioavailability of beef,9 and is more dense and more digestible than any animal-derived protein. These two super foods also contain the macrominerals calcium, magnesium, zinc and potassium, as well as essential fatty acids (including gamma-linoleic acid or GLA), mucopolysaccharides, beta-carotene, nucleic acids (ribonucleic acid or RNA and deoxyribonucleic acid or DNA) and chlorophyll. Chlorella and spirulinas known vast spectrum of microelements are impressively complex, and it is important to note much of the healing phytochemical content in these super foods have as yet been isolated and named remaining unidentified and thus unknown to the scientific community. However, their health implications are becoming increasingly more noticed.
Over 200 studieshuman clinical studies, animal research and invitro studies have clearly established benefits of daily use of spirulina, said Bob Capelli, vice president of sales with Kailua-Kona, Hawaii-based Cyanotech Corp. (www.cyanotech.com). Spirulina has been shown to be excellent for the immune system, is anti-viral, anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant. It is good for the eyes, blood lipids (cholesterol), skin and it has proven benefits for the liver and kidneys.You get the idea; spirulina is basically good for everyone.
Gram per gram, spirulina is the most nutritious food in the world, the king of the super foods, Capelli said.
Recent preclinical testing shows spirulinas immunological, antiviral and cholesterolreducing therapeutic properties;10 and, when used in animal experimentsadministered in much higher amounts than recommended in human consumptionit was found to be safe and non-toxic when tested for short- and longterm toxicity, mutagenicity and teratogenicity.11
Japanese researchers have shown the phycocyanin (red and bluethe two main natural pigments commercially produced from algae) in spirulina raises lymphocyte activity and strengthens the immune system.12 In India and Germany, researchers have used spirulina to reduce cholesterol levels13 and lower blood pressure in those with mild hypertension. Experimental studies in animal models have demonstrated an inhibitory effect of spirulina algae on oral cancer,14 and this was also shown in a preliminary human study in India.15 Another study conducted in India found spirulina controlled blood glucose levels and improved the lipid profile in Type II diabetics.16
More interestingly, in another Japanese study, spirulinaas an antiviral component was studied in relation to anti-human immunodeficiency virus type I (HIV-1) and anti-herpes simplex virus type I (HSV-1), and was found to be a possible candidate agent for an anti-HIV therapeutic drug.17 The researchers noted spirulina may overcome the disadvantages observed in many sulfated polysaccharides currently used in such treatments. Spirulina also inhibited HIV-1 replication in human T-cell lines, peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMC), and Langerhans cells (LC) in a Harvard Medical School study leaving researchers to conclude the extracts contain antiretroviral activity that may be of potential clinical interest.18
The Many Woes of Manufacturing with Green Foods
Green foods pose serious challenges in manufacturing due to their easily degradable, sensitive make-up. Whole green foods such as the dark green vegetables broccoli, alfalfa, kale and spinach are considered a much easier, desired path to enjoying the benefits of green foods due to their convenience of serving them in true form. Other super foods are not so easily delivered and can be an absolute nightmare to manufacture correctly, according to Hamilton.
Ron Henson, vice president for commercial sales with Tollhouse, Calif.-based Earthrise Nutritionals Inc. (www.earthrise.com) agreed. To maintain the phytonutrient content from the living plant to the consumer, thats a major challenge, he said.
Green foods vary in production and harvesting techniques, mostly according to whether they are land-based or marinebased. Spirulina and chlorella, for example, are grown in water, and pose much more involved production and harvesting techniques than do green foods grown in soil. Grasses and micro-algae are very diverse in their harvesting techniques yet both should be harvested during the thriving, fast growing, peak times of growththe point where theyre richest in phytonutrient content (i.e. the jointing stage as in cereal grasses).
Manufacturers must first understand the nature of each raw material, how it was produced and how to maintain the phytonutrient content, Henson said. Each product will have its own unique characteristics.
West Palm Beach, Fla.-based Garden of Lifes Dana Burger, vice president and general manager of supplements, health and beauty aids, said Garden of Life® takes this aspect very seriously. We source the highest quality grasses which are grown to our own set specifications. The product is manufactured to strict standards and we do micro testing to ensure the quality of the finished product. The weather, soil and climatic conditions can cause variations in crops.
Growing green foods can be quite meticulous in itself. Many factors come into play to ensure its quality, safety and efficacy. For example, spirulina farms can be specially designed and operated to produce spirulina under controlled conditions that do not allow the growth of other contaminant cyanobacteria. In addition, 40 quality control tests assure spirulina meets all international food safety and quality standards. The technology and quality control at an advanced farm helps to assure purity and safety. Harvesting also requires special centrifuge equipment.
Growth in the correct regions of the world also is important. According to a book written by Mike Adams, titled Superfoods for Optimum Health: Chlorella and Spirulina, the closer to the equator these substances are grown the better due to increased sunlight. A good example of optimal location is Cyanotech. Located on the Kona coast of the big island of Hawaii, it is an absolutely pristine environment, said Gerry Cysewski, president and chief executive officer of Cyanotech. We get more sunlight than any other coastal location in the United States and sunlight is absolutely essential for the growth of micro-algae. In addition, no other agricultural operations are close by, so we dont have to worry about contamination with agricultural chemicals, he said.
Capelli said proper drying of the raw material is necessary in order to preserve as much of the antioxidants, enzymes and phytonutrients as possible. Cyanotech uses its own patented drying process called Ocean Chill Drying which dries the products in less than 1 percent oxygen in only seven seconds and at low temperatures, which, for example, preserves much higher levels of the many nutrients in spirulina. Tests run by Cyanotech both with and without the use of its Ocean Chill Drying has shown not using the process results in as much as 50 percent to 60 percent loss of the carotenoid content, whereas the use of Ocean Chill Drying results in a loss of between 5 percent and 10 percent.
These are just a few examples of the challenges at the beginning stages of the manufacturing of these super foods. Capelli recommends manufacturers ensure they buy from a reliable company that can provide independent lab analysis showing high levels of key nutrients.
It is absolutely imperative manufacturers do the best they can to preserve the nutrients naturally found in the green foodthrough all the various processes, to the end consumer. Recognize and respect the fact these are natural, certified organic, whole green foods and they are best served as close to their natural environmental state as possible with as minimal handling as possible, Hamilton said.
Heating is a major concern in manufacturing these materials. The trick for manufacturers is to be able to dehydrate it to stabilize the product, but not over-dehydrate it because then you will cook the product, said Henson. Heating can be extremely detrimental as it has the ability to denature the phytonutrient content of the green food. Some phytonutrients are more sensitive to heat than others.
Green foods contain a host of micronutrients, Hamilton said. Many of those micronutrients are heat sensitive and become denatured by heat. On the other hand, Henson said heating is only detrimental when the color of the green food is changed, pointing out the phytonutrients are the color so as long as the color has not been changed or adjusted, then the phytonutrient is delivered intact.
Hamilton said Klamath certifies its heat temperatures and recommends temperatures remain below 100 degrees Fahrenheit. Heat is a big deal, he said. If youre selling nutrients you have to be aware of your heat ranges. Hamilton works closely with the manufacturers buying his materials to ensure the process used does not involve excessive heat ranges and dwell times in excess of minutes.
Tableting must be carefully carried out when working with green foods due to the ease of denaturing by heat. Hamilton said in order to achieve speed in tableting, you have to use a lot of pressure and a side effect of pressure is heat. Slow the press down to keep heat consistent, he advised.
It is due to these denaturing effects of tableting that powder form is the most widely used form for green foodssecond only to the whole food form. Capelli said he recommends powder as the best commercial form of green foods. Powder is best because it maintains bioavailability best. Powder far surpasses flake form as well. From a primary manufacturing standpoint, flake is difficult to handle and it doesnt tablet or capsule well. It is not as soluble, Hamilton said.
Proper packaging and storage application are the detrimental end stages for manufacturers to consider. Green foods are highly susceptible to oxidation. According to Henson, air oxidizes these antioxidant phytonutrients, especially over time. Capelli agreed and pointed out packaging is key in preserving the vital nutrients. He said Cyanotech often recommends amber glass bottles with metal caps that have rubber seals and an oxygen absorber in every bottle. Packaging can tell a lot about the quality of the product, according to Henson. Some phytonutrient green foods or super foods are packaged to protect them from oxygen and some of them are not, he said. You can separate the quality right there, just by looking at the packaging.
Storage also plays an important role because sunlight too can cause oxidation or degradation of the product. The phytonutrients absorb energy, Henson said. We want them to absorb free radicals inside our cells. The phytonutrients remain photoactive after the plant has been dehydrated, so you need to protect it from light and you need to protect it from oxygen. Otherwise its potency will fade.
Still, with all the challenges manufacturers must face, these super green foods continue to increase in popularity. Green foods are probably the best source there is for three things (enzymes, vitamins and minerals) on Gods green Earth, Hamilton said. Thats probably why the market continues to expand for them. You take them, youll feel it.
Dec. 6, 2004, Natural Products Industry INSIDER
"It's Not Always Easy Delivering Greens" References
1. Katz DL et al. "Oats, antioxidants and endothelial function in overweight, dyslipidemic adults." J Am Coll Nutr. 23, 5:397-403, 2004. www.am-coll-nutr.org/jacn/jacn.htm
2. Molgaard J et al. "Alfalfa seeds lower low density lipoprotein cholesterol and apolipoprotein B concentrations in patients with type II hyperlipoproteinemia." Atherosclerosis. 65, 1-2:173-9, 1987. www.elsevier.com/locate/atherosclerosis
3. Ben-Arye E et al. "Wheat grass juice in the treatment of active distal ulcerative colitis: a randomized double-blind placebo-controlled trial." Scand J Gastroenterol. 37, 4:444-9, 2002.
4. Meyerowitz S. Wheatgrass: Nature's Finest Medicine--The Complete Guide to Using Grass Foods & Juices to Revitalize Your Health. Sproutman Publications; 6th edition, April, 1999.
5. Behall KM et al. "Diets containing barley significantly reduce lipids in mildly hypercholesterolemic men and women." Am J Clin Nutr. 80, 5:1185-93, 2004. www.ajcn.org
6. Keogh GF et al. "Randomized controlled crossover study of the effect of a highly beta-glucan-enriched barley on cardiovascular disease risk factors in mildly hypercholesterolemic men." Am J Clin Nutr. 78, 4:711-8, 2003. www.ajcn.org
7. Behall KM et al. "Diets containing barley significantly reduce lipids in mildly hypercholesterolemic men and women." Am J Clin Nutr. 80, 5:1185-93, 2004. www.ajcn.org
8. Adams Mike. Superfoods For Optimum Health: Chlorella and Spirulina. Truth Publishing Inc., 1st ed., 2004
10. Health Encyclopedia Diseases and Conditions, Blue-green Algae, Spirulina http://drkoop.com/encyclopedia/93/663.html
11. Health Encyclopedia Diseases and Conditions, Blue-green Algae, Spirulina http://drkoop.com/encyclopedia/93/663.html
12. Ayehunie S et al. "Inhibition of HIV-1 replication by an aqueous extract of Spirulina platensis (Arthrospira platensis)." J Acquir Immune Defic Syndr Hum Retrovirol. 18, 1:7-12, 1998.
13. Samuels R et al. "Hypocholesterolemic effect of spirulina in patients with hyperlipidemic nephrotic syndrome." J Med Food. 5, 2:91-6, 2002. www.liebertpub.com
14. Mathew B et al. "Evaluation of chemoprevention of oral cancer with Spirulina fusiformis." Nutr Cancer. 24, 2:197-202, 1995. www.leaonline.com/loi/nc?cookieSet=1
15. Schwartz J et al. "Prevention of experimental oral cancer by extracts of Spirulina-Dunaliella algae." Nutr Cancer. 11, 2:127-34, 1998. www.leaonline.com/loi/nc?cookieSet=1
16. Parikh P et al. "Role of Spirulina in the Control of Glycemia and Lipidemia in Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus." J Med Food. 4, 4:193-99, 2001. www.liebertpub.com
17. Hayashi K et al. "A natural sulfated polysaccharide, calcium spirulan, isolated from Spirulina platensis: in vitro and ex vivo evaluation of anti-herpes simplex virus and anti-human immunodeficiency virus activities." AIDS Res Hum Retroviruses. 10, 12(15):1463-71, 1996. www.liebertpub.com/publication.aspx?pub_id=2
18. Ayehunie S et al. "Inhibition of HIV-1 replication by an aqueous extract of Spirulina platensis (Arthrospira platensis)." J Acquir Immune Defic Syndr Hum Retrovirol. 18, 1:7-12, 1998.