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Next superfruit?

Memorial University researcher finds sea buckthorn berries may help with diabetes and obesity

By Claire Carter

Memorial University scientists are investigating the potential health benefits of sea buckthorn’s super-fruit powers — and finding some promising results.

Dr. Fereidoon Shahidi, Department of Biochemistry, Faculty of Science, and PhD student Renan Danielski wanted to learn more about the antioxidant effects of sea buckthorn, focusing on locally grown berries.

You can find their study in the Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture here.

High in polyphenols

Sea buckthorn (not to be confused with buckthorn) is a shrub that produces an orange-yellow colour, edible berry.

It can be grown in poor soils including river banks, steep slopes and acid and alkaline soils. It is also salt tolerant.

The plant was introduced to Canada in the early 2000s and brought to Newfoundland and Labrador because of its resistance to extreme temperatures.

“Newfoundland weather is ideal for sea buckthorn.” — Dr. Fereidoon Shahidi

Because of the province’s unique growing season, local sea buckthorn is smaller than other provinces’ and is particularly high in polyphenols.

The researchers used samples grown in Bay Roberts and Portugal Cove-St. Philip’s.

“We have a cold climate,” said Dr. Shahidi, who is a University Research Professor at Memorial University. “Growth is much more incremental than elsewhere. It is the surface-to-volume ratio that is very important in the content and profile of phytochemicals that are present. Newfoundland weather is ideal for sea buckthorn. We have little pollution and very pristine water. Our soil has a lot of peat, which holds nutrients.”

Diabetes and obesity

The pair tested the plant’s antioxidant properties on human intestinal cell lines, and yielded encouraging results.

As well, the sea buckthorn’s antioxidants cause toxicity when applied to cancer cells, reducing their ability to grow.

The berries have an inhibitory effect on metabolic enzymes related to type 2 diabetes and obesity.

“Our research is not conducted to end up on a bookshelf,” said Dr. Shahidi. “It is to see work translated to products or properties that convey health benefits and positive effects, with the potential of that product or by-product in food applications and beyond.”

The small, sour orange berry is rich in carotenoids, polyphenols, omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, vitamins A, B, and E, and catechins in green tea.

“It was impossible to read anything in the area without coming across [Dr. Shahidi’s] name.” — Renan Danielski

The fruit’s seeds, pulp, juice and oil can all be used and are filled with phytochemicals, which are thought to reduce inflammation and strengthen the immune system.

Sea buckthorn is already popular in Asia and Europe, where its oil is a widely used ingredient in cosmetics and anti-aging skincare products.

Dr. Shahidi and Mr. Danielski say the tests are still preliminary and require further pre-clinical clinical trials.

‘Came here for the chance to work with him’

Renan Danielski studied antioxidants and polyphenols in his native Brazil.

Drs Shahidi and Danielski in Dr. Shahidi's office, standing in front of Shahidi's published work.
From left are Dr. Shahidi and doctoral student Renan Danielski.
Photo: Submitted

He came to Memorial University to learn from Dr. Shahidi.

“It was impossible to read anything in the area without coming across his name,” said Mr. Danielski, who successfully defended his PhD earlier this month. “I sent an email with my CV and publications. I had never heard of Memorial University before, but came here for the chance to work with him.”

Dr. Shahidi is the founder of the International Society for Nutraceuticals and Functional Foods (ISNFF), and the Journal of Functional Foods, and has authored or edited 80 books, over 1,000 research papers and book chapters, and holds 10 patents.


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