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Functional Food Products and Phytotherapy for Chronic Diseases

Each year since 2004, the Functional Foods Center at D&A Inc. has held an international conference under the series “Functional Foods for the Prevention and Treatment of Chronic Diseases.” The third annual conference was held October 14-15, 2006, in Dallas, TX, and was entitled, “Functional Foods and Phytotherapy for the Prevention and Treatment of Chronic Diseases.” The conference was organized by the Functional Foods Center at Richardson, TX, along with informational sponsors UNESCO Chair-Life Sciences International Education Center, Center for Obesity Research and Program Evaluation (CORPE), Texas A&M University, and the American Botanical Council (media sponsor). The 2005 conference dealt with “Functional Food Products for the Prevention and Treatment of Chronic Diseases.”1 The proceedings of that conference were published in the form of a book, titled Functional Foods for Chronic Diseases.2

The main goal of the 2006 conference was to bring together experts in phytotherapy, medicine, biology, and the food industry to discuss the contribution of functional food products based on natural ingredients in the prevention and treatment of chronic diseases. Main conference topics included the following:

  1. The role of nutrition in the occurrence of chronic diseases such as cardiovascular diseases, cancer, diabetes, and obesity.

  2. How functional food products are developed and used for the prevention and treatment of chronic diseases.

  3. A description and various listings of non-traditional plants (i.e., plants that are not well known), which may be used as a source of functional food products.

The conference opened with an introductory speech by Danik

M. Martirosyan, PhD, lead scientist at the Functional Foods Center and conference chairman. This speech underlined the many problems that remain unsolved in this area, despite various advances and achievements of modern approaches and the potential of pharmacotherapy. It is well established that chronic diseases such as cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, and cancer are global epidemics in developed countries, and there is an unprecedented level of interest in this area of research. The healthcare cost of cardiovascular diseases alone in the United States amounts to over $300 billion every year.3 Dr. Martirosyan stressed that natural methods of therapy, especially phytotherapy and food therapy for chronic diseases, have fewer adverse side effects, are physiologically more effective, and more economically viable.

The conference scientific program consisted of invited lecturers in the form of oral and poster presentations. Representatives from over 50 organizations, including researchers, medical doctors, food specialists, and graduate students from around the world attended the 2006 conference. Numerous lecturers spoke about the prevention and treatment of different types of diseases. The following contributions have been selected as some of the best presentations of the 2006 conference:

  1. Quality Control and Prediction of Nutritional and Pharmacological Value in Herbal Dietary Supplements by Moris L. Silber, MD, PhD, research professor, Natural Resource Sciences, Washington State University (Pullman, WA, USA)

  2. Prevention and Treatment of Cardiovascular Diseases by Nutritional Factors by Undurti Das, MD, president and CEO, UND Life Sciences

  3. Diet and Nutrition for the Prevention of Diabetes by Sharon Rabb, PhD, ND, naturopath and clinical nutritionist (Dallas, TX, USA)

  4. Nutrition and Cancer by Parviz Ghadirian, PhD, director of the Epidemiology Research Unit, University of Montreal Health Center, Montreal, Canada

  1. Amaranth as a Good Source of Functional Food Products by Danik M. Martirosyan, PhD, lead scientist at the Functional Foods Center at D&A Inc. (Dallas, TX, USA)

  2. Antidiabetic Potential of Nepalese Herbal and Food Plants by Megh Bhandari, PhD, Laboratory of Food Biochemistry, Hokkaido University (Sapporo, Japan)

  3. Grapefruit and Carrot: Colon Cancer and Type II Diabetes Prevention by Jairam Vanamala, PhD, research scientist, Center for Obesity Research and Program Evaluation Associate Member, Intercollegiate Faculty of Nutrition, Department of Nutrition and Food Science, and Peter S. Murano, PhD, director of Center for Obesity Research and Program Evaluation, Texas A&M University (College Station, TX, USA)

The full-length articles of these presentations will be published in 2007 in the form of a conference proceedings book, titled Functional Foods and Phytotherapy for Chronic Diseases. The following are some of the highlights from the conference:

In his presentation, “Anti-diabetic Potential of Nepalese Herbal and Food Plants,” Dr. Bhandari noted that diabetes is becoming the third largest “killer” of humans, along with cancer and cardiovascular diseases, due to its high prevalence, morbidity, and mortality. Diabetes mellitus, in particular, is currently one of the most costly and burdensome chronic diseases and is a condition that is increasing in epidemic proportions throughout the world. Diabetes affects about 5% of the global population and management of diabetes without any side effects is still a challenge to the medical system. To treat diabetes, a number of synthetic drugs are in use, but unfortunately, the risk of severe hypoglycemia associated with the use of these medications can complicate other associated conditions such as congestive heart failure, renal insufficiency, or liver disease, or the medications may not be tolerated because of gastrointestinal adverse effects. Therefore, alternative therapeutic agents, such as alpha-glucosidase inhibitors, have been investigated. Food and herbs have a vital role in traditional Eastern medicine. The work of Dr. Bhandari revealed the anti-diabetic potential of the following plants: Allium hypsistum, Liliaceae; Cassia fistula, Fabaceae; Cedrus deodara, Pinaceae; Centella asiatica, Araliaceae; Justicia adhatoda, Acanthaceae; Myrica esculenta, Myricaceae; Neopicrorhiza scrophulariiflora, Plantaginaceae; Nymphaea stellata, Nymphaeaceae; Rubia manjith, Rubiaceae; Sapindus mukorossi, Sapindaceae; Valeriana villosa, Valerianaceae; and Woodfordia fruticosa, Lythraceae. Dr. Bhandari concluded that these herbs and food plants have significant anti-diabetic activity and can be considered potential sources of anti-diabetic agents. These findings serve as an opportunity towards finding active compounds for developing efficient functional foods for diabetes.

Dr. Ghadirian, who has been a consultant for the World Health Organization since 1969, provided information about the relationship between food and cancer in his presentation, “Nutrition and Cancer: Causes and Prevention.” He emphasized that cancer is the second leading cause of death in North America, after cardiovascular disease. In North America, 1 out of 3 people will develop cancer during his or her lifetime and 1 in 4 individuals will die from it. Scientific investigations during the past few decades have shown that around 90% of cancers are due to environmental risk factors such as nutrition, occupation, lifestyle, etc., with nutrition playing a major etiologic role. In general, about 35% of cancer incidence and mortality are due to food habits and nutrition. Dr. Ghadirian provided several hypotheses regarding why and how diet and nutrition may cause cancer. They include carcinogens (cancer-causing agents) in natural foodstuffs, carcinogens produced by cooking, carcinogens produced by microorganisms in stored foods, formation of carcinogens in the body, and irregular consumptions of calories, fat, protein, carbohydrates, fiber, vitamins, and minerals. Dr. Ghadirian noted that a high intake of some nutrients, such as protein, caloric carbohydrates, and fat, might play a causative role in the etiology of some cancers. The protective effects of vitamin C and A on the occurrence of different cancers have been suggested. Among minerals, an inverse relationship between cancer and selenium, iron, iodine, and molybdenum has been reported from various parts of the world. Excess amounts of zinc, copper, and cadmium in food and water may also play an important role in the etiology of some cancers. Dr. Ghadirian and his co-investigators found that total dietary fiber might reduce the risk of colorectal cancer by 50%. Of all the types of fibers, it was observed that vegetable fiber was the most important type, reducing the risk by 43%. Although fruit fiber showed 26% risk reduction, it was not statistically significant, whereas cereal fiber seemed to exert no protective role in the etiology of this disease. Another promising hypothesis made by Dr. Ghadirian is that relatively high calcium intakes may reduce the risk of colorectal cancer, perhaps by forming complexes with secondary bile acids in the intestine. In other words, high dietary calcium intake can decrease the risk of colon cancer by about 31%. Dr. Ghadirian made some key recommendations for the prevention of cancer: (1) avoid obesity,

(2) reduce total fat intake and increase calcium consumption, (3) eat more high-fiber foods such as fruits, vegetables, and whole grain cereals, (4) include foods rich in vitamins E, A, and C in the daily diet, and (5) be moderate in the consumption of salt-cured, smoked, and nitrite-cured foods and avoid alcoholic beverages.

Dr. Martirosyan presented a lecture entitled “Amaranth as a Good Source of Functional Food Products.” Since 1991, a group of investigators under Dr. Martirosyan’s supervision has been working on vegetable and grain amaranth (Amaranthus spp., Amaranthaceae) commercialization by formulating and producing new amaranth products, especially for the prevention and treatment of cardiovascular diseases such as coronary heart disease and hypertension. Dr. Martirosyan provided brief background information about the colorful history of amaranth. Various amaranth species were grown by the Aztecs and Incas 5,000 to 6,000 years ago in South America, prior to the disruption of the South American civilization by the Spanish conquistadors. Humans utilize both the grain amaranth and leaves. He reported that amaranth grain is high in fiber, calcium, and iron content and has a relatively high concentration of magnesium, phosphorus, copper, and manganese. Furthermore, the leaves of amaranth are a good source of nutrition, with high concentrations of vitamins A, B6, and C, as well as riboflavin. Moreover, grain amaranth has higher amounts of protein than many other cereal grains and has significantly higher lysine content. It has been proven that amaranth leaves are an excellent source of protein, with its maximal accumulation in the blossoming phase. Dr. Martirosyan and his colleagues have extensively examined the protein contents in leaves of various species of amaranth. The following species of amaranth were studied: Amaranthus lividus (k-57), A. speciosa (Mexico), A. speciosa (k24), A. cruentus (k-25), and A. cruentus (k-218). The data obtained suggested that A. lividus (k-57) leaves contain the highest amount of protein amongst the investigated species. A correlation between the protein amount and pigment concentration in amaranth leaf was reported. Furthermore, the greater the amount of pigments in the leaves, the greater the amount of protein in the amaranth leaf. Dr. Martirosyan reported that amaranth has a very high concentration of magnesium, which is especially beneficial for people with hypertension, and it has significantly high amounts of manganese, which is important for the growth of healthy bones. Finally, samples of nutritional products with amaranth, formulated at the Functional Foods Center in Dallas, TX, with excellent nutritional values, were provided.

Scientists from countries including Armenia, Egypt, France, Greece, Japan, Lithuania, Nepal, Russia, Ukraine, United States, and Uzbekistan submitted their proposals to the conference organizers, and those manuscripts will also be included in the conference proceedings book, Functional Foods and Phytotherapy for Chronic Diseases.

The latest conference was historic for several reasons. It was open to the public, and people with various interests visited the conference to ask questions directly to medical doctors and functional food creators. It was also decided to formulate a new International Scientific Advisory Panel, which is now functioning under the supervision of Dr. Das and Dr. Martirosyan. Members of the International Scientific Advisory Panel are scientists who have sufficient professional qualifications, including training and experience, to be capable of providing expert comments as to the impact on functional food products and non-traditional plants. The panel will assist in identifying relevant practices and research and provide guidance on the scientific integrity of all functional food products.

A new scientific advisory board has been chosen for the next conference, which will be held on October 13-14, 2007, in Dallas, TX. The 2007 international conference will be entitled “Functional Foods for Cardiovascular Diseases, Diabetes, and Aging.” More information regarding future conferences on this subject and new books can be accessed at, or via e-mail at, or by calling toll-free: (866) 464-6955 (from the United States) or (469) 441-8272 (for international calls).

  1. Martirosyan DM, Das U, Martirosyan AM. Functional food products and chronic diseases. HerbalGram. 2006;72:66-69.
  2. Martirosyan DM, ed. Functional Foods for Chronic Diseases. Richardson, TX: Functional Foods Center at D&A Inc; 2006.
  3. Chronic Disease Overview. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Web site. Available at: Accessed March 2006.