Experts are questioning about the much touted health promoting properties of superfoods, which have been the mainstay of the health industry for a long time.
Foods such as broccoli, blueberries and whole grains do
contain polyphenols, compounds that have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory
properties, but their health-giving properties seldom make it past the gut,
"Polyphenols may well work when cells are exposed to
them directly, such as under laboratory conditions, but what needs to be
established is how effective they are when consumed as part of a food,"
said Lucy Jones, Kingston
University's deputy dean
of the faculty of science, engineering and computing.
"If they don't actually get through the gut membrane
and into the rest of the body, then they're not a super food," said Jones,
who with colleague Elizabeth Opara have taken a model developed in the early
1980s by Sloane Kettering Institute in the US and adapted it to see if and how
medicinal Chinese herbs, known to limit the growth of cancer cells, are
absorbed in the body.
Known as the Caco-2, the model mimics the action of the
small intestine, the principal place where nutrients are taken up.
The Kingston researchers have
used it to assess what does and doesn't make it through the gut, according to a
"The Caco-2 is a single layer of cells grown in a
laboratory environment that develops the characteristics and functions of the
micro-villi, the tiny hair-like projections that aid efficient absorption found
mainly in the small intestine," Opara said.
"This method allows us to look at what nutrients pass
through into the body and could be used to test food supplements, drugs and
"We found that while some compounds may have a local
effect in the gut itself, in terms of the rest of the body the impact could be
Products so far tested by the Kingston University
research team include herbs such as parsley, rosemary, sage and thyme.