Fitness from within: nature-identical hydroxytyrosol

Published: 29-Dec-2014

WACKER now offers a nature-identical version of hydroxytyrosol, reports Nadine Baumgartl. Using a new, patented synthesis process, the technique improves purity while keeping the content of the active agent at a defined level.

Fresh fish, fruits and vegetables, a serving of walnuts every day and, most importantly, olive oil: people who regularly put these foods on their menu are following what is known as the Mediterranean diet — and making very healthy eating choices. What makes this a healthy diet is that these foods contain plant secondary metabolites, a category of substances that includes hydroxytyrosol, a much sought after active agent and antioxidant.

That eating an abundance of fruits and vegetables keeps both mind and body in good shape is fairly well known, as is the promise of longevity that the Mediterranean diet offers. A large number of studies have put Southern European eating habits under the microscope and investigated physical health within these populations. What they have concluded is that the Mediterranean diet has a positive effect on our bodies — an effect derived from the compounds that these foods contain. Nutrition experts have been paying particularly close attention to the plant secondary metabolites in bell peppers, olives and the like, owing to the health benefits of these chemicals. Examples of what these ‘natural wonders’ are supposed to do include protecting against cardiovascular diseases, diabetes and Alzheimer’s, strengthening the immune system response and inhibiting inflammatory processes.

Olive harvests are subject to seasonal fluctuations, which affect more than just the composition of the product.

Plant secondary metabolites — polyphenols, to be precise — include hydroxytyrosol, a compound that is among the most powerful antioxidants, protecting human cells from harmful oxygen radicals. Olives and olive leaves are the most common naturally occurring source of this substance. 'There are already a few suppliers out there who obtain this active agent by extraction,' explains Dr Sebastian Schuck, senior manager for business development at WACKER BIOSOLUTIONS, 'and they sell it to manufacturers of nutritional supplements and cosmetics who use it in their product formulations.' Their olive extract, however, is a blend of a wide range of polyphenols rather than pure hydroxytyrosol. Olive harvests are also subject to seasonal fluctuations, which affect more than just the composition of the product ingredients; it also has an impact on the price of these valuable extracts.

Nevertheless, demand for this health superstar is on the rise, which gave WACKER experts an idea: 'We follow trends in the nutritional supplement market very closely, of course. That’s what got us thinking about developing a synthetic process to make hydroxytyrosol — a method that could supply the market with this coveted active in large enough amounts and at high levels of purity,' Schuck recalls. No sooner said than done. Within just a year and a half, WACKER researchers had managed to prepare a nature-identical hydroxytyrosol — a feat that included selecting the most suitable synthesis route, scaling up the process and ultimately submitting a successful patent application.

That these chemists were able to develop a route in such a short period of time was primarily due to the enormous treasure trove of experience that has been gained during a great many decades in the laboratories at the main plant in Burghausen. And thanks to the new multistage synthesis method, the company now has a cost-effective process to manufacture a highly pure form of the active. Because a great deal of expertise has gone into the process, Schuck can only reveal so much: 'There are a lot of ways of synthesizing a natural substance; but, as far as we’re concerned, our researchers found the best, most efficient method currently available,' says the WACKER expert. Another advantage is that the route is based on commercially available raw materials and practical process conditions, ensuring that the compound can be produced on a large scale.

'Plus, we don’t end up with a mixture of natural substances any more. Now we can directly produce metric tons of the molecule we want, without having to rely on harvests. Our hydroxytyrosol meets a precise set of specifications, and the quality is consistent and exceptionally high,' Schuck is pleased to report. And that opens up the possibility of other applications: the active is highly concentrated, making it suitable, for instance, as a nutritional supplement in more compact forms, such as tablets and capsules. In addition, WACKER also hopes that nature-identical hydroxytyrosol — marketed under the name HTEssence — will be more widely accepted among food manufacturers.

The active is highly concentrated, making it suitable as a nutritional supplement in more compact forms, such as tablets and capsules.

'Cost pressures are especially high in that industry, and HTEssence means that we can offer these manufacturers a cost-effective, high-quality alternative,' Schuck points out. The food industry is the most important market for WACKER BIOSOLUTIONS, constituting 61% of the division’s sales. Experts estimate global sales of food supplements to be around $96 billion, a figure that rises to $112 billion when functional foods are taken into account. It is a promising market — and it is precisely the market that WACKER’s new, nature-identical hydroxytyrosol is intended to serve and, in so doing, expand the company’s functional ingredients business.

Its unusually powerful antioxidant properties are what make hydroxytyrosol such an interesting plant secondary metabolite for use in foods and cosmetics. The compound is exceptionally good at capturing free radicals, which can damage our cells. At 45,000 micromol Trolox equivalents per gram, the oxygen radical absorbance capacity of hydroxytyrosol is nearly ten times that of green tea and more than twice as high as that of coenzyme Q10. As Schuck notes: “That means that hydroxytyrosol protects human cells and blood lipids from oxidative stress — a key factor influencing the development of cardiovascular diseases.'

Also attributed to this active substance is the ability to strengthen the immune system response, lower blood pressure, inhibit inflammatory processes and exert a positive effect on the bones and joints — interesting properties that could be put to use in nutritional supplements or applications in sports nutrition, such as power bars or functional beverages.

WACKER anticipates approval for HTEssence by the end of the year. The company has already sent out samples of the product to a few customers for research and development purposes — and initial feedback on nature-identical hydroxytyrosol has put Schuck and his team in a very good mood.

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