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Polymer microparticles improve vitamin A stability in fortified foods

Article-Polymer microparticles improve vitamin A stability in fortified foods

© iStock/NickyLloyd Polymer microparticles improve vitamin A stability in fortified foods
Companies are scaling up use of a polymer-based microparticle to encapsulate vitamin A, protecting the sensitive nutrient from degrading in common fortified staples, such as wheat and stock cubes.

Vitamin A is critical for vision, a healthy immune system, and the normal functioning of organs such as the heart and lungs but deficiency is widespread in many countries. Nearly half (48%) of children in sub-Saharan Africa and 44% in south Asia were deficient in 2013, with over one hundred thousand children’s deaths attributable to vitamin A deficiency.

Fortifying common food staples such as bread or stock cubes has been largely unsuccessful because the vitamin is highly unstable and sensitive to temperature and ultraviolet light, meaning it breaks down during storage or cooking.

However, using polymer-based microparticles to encapsulate vitamin A can protect the nutrient and ensure it is absorbed, according to scientists from Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in a peer-reviewed study.

The researchers conducted a small clinical trial and found that bioavailability levels when people ate bread fortified with encapsulated vitamin A and when they consumed vitamin A on its own were similar. They also tested the stability of the vitamin in Nestlé Maggi bouillon cubes by boiling them at 100°C for two to four hours, according to common cooking practices in many countries where micronutrient deficiencies are prevalent.

Collectively, the [polymer] protect vitamin A against heat, water, and oxidative species in cooking processes and significantly outperform the currently available commercial product,” write the researchers.

‘Better than anything else on the market’

Ana Jaklenec, research scientist at MIT’s David H. Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research, told Vitafoods Insights she considered the use of this polymer encapsulation to be a gamechanger for food fortification.

It stabilises nutrients like vitamin A better than anything else on the market and that could help improve the health status for many people who are deficient.

The polymer is classified by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as generally recognised as safe (GRAS), and is already being used in coatings for drugs and dietary supplements. In this study, the researchers used a polymer made by Evonik, which was involved in the design and/or funding of this study, but Jaklenec noted that other companies make this material as well.

Robert Langer, professor at MIT and study co-author, said: “This is a study that our team is really excited about because it shows that everything we did in test tubes and animals works safely and effectively in humans. We hope this opens the door for someday helping millions, if not billions, of people in the developing world.

Particles for Humanity raises $10 million to use polymer in fortified wheat

Two companies are now licencing the polymer technology: Vitakey, a firm co-founded by the co-authors of this study, Jaklenec and Langer (with others) and Particles for Humanity, a benefit corporation created with funding from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

This month (17 January), Particles for Humanity announced it had raised $10 million in grant funding to prepare its stable form of vitamin A, known as PFH-VAP, for use in national wheat flour fortification programmes.

While fortification programmes are mandatory in many countries – 29 countries in Africa mandate wheat fortification and almost 600 million people in Africa live in countries where vitamin A fortification is required –, up to 85% of vitamin A in commercial wheat-based products is lost due to heat and humidity during storage, according to one 2018 study.

© AdobeStock/Riccardo Niels MayerPolymer microparticles improve vitamin A stability in fortified foods

Micronutrient Forum: Fortification ‘a clear solution’ to tackle hidden hunger

The scale of micronutrient deficiency, also known as hidden hunger, is huge. A study published last year by non-profit Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition (GAIN) estimated it may affect nearly half the people on the planet, and not one quarter as previously believed.

Commenting on the study, Saskia Osendarp, executive director of the Micronutrient Forum, said fortification was one of several “very clear solutions” to the problem.

We need to ensure everyone has access to a variety of micronutrient dense foods, including animal-source foods, dark green leafy vegetables and beans, lentils, or peas. Food fortification can help make up the difference when healthy diets are unaffordable or accessible.

Study details

Enhanced stability and clinical absorption of a form of encapsulated vitamin A for food fortification

Authors: Wen Tang, Jia Zhuang, Aaron C. Anselmo, and Ana Jaklenec

Published 12 December 2022