A combination of milk protein and wolfberry (goji berry) fruit could help boost the immune function of elderly people by strengthening their ability to fight certain infections, according to new data from Nestlé.
The 'exploratory' study – published in Rejuvenation Research – investigates whether giving elderly people a daily supplement of the firm's proprietary blend of milk protein and wolfberry (known as ‘lacto-wolfberry’) had an effect on immune responses to seasonal influenza vaccine
Led by Dr Karine Vidal, from the Nestlé Research Center, Switzerland, the team found that while all the participants had increased levels of influenza-specific antibodies after being vaccinated, those who had consumed lacto-wolfberry had a higher increase in antibodies than those in the control group, who had not.
“This is really an exploratory study,” Vidal told NutraIngredients. “The goal of which was to explore and demonstrate the immune strengthening properties of lacto-wolfberry.”
“We showed that indeed the group having lacto-wolfberry has a reinforcement of their immune responses, by looking at this antigen specific to the vaccine,” she said.
Vidal explained that Nestlé have been working on their proprietary blend of milk protein and wolfberry (often commercially referred to as ‘goji berry’) in order to better utilise the powerful antioxidants that the fruit contains.
“From our side, what we really wanted was to develop a process that really enhanced the bioavailability of the compounds in wolfberry,” she explained, noting that the firm found a way to increase the bioavailability of the antioxidants in wolfberry so that they are more accessible upon digestion by using milk as the basis of the supplement.
Vidal revealed that the Nestlé technology increases the bioavailability of water soluble antioxidants, whilst also being able to have lipid soluble compounds in the one preparation.
“If you just extract wolfberry in water … you will not have all the ‘goodies’ of the fruit.
“We came up with the lacto-technology and have shown that we have a three-fold increase in the antioxidant bioavailability.”
The research team randomised 150 Chinese people aged between 65 and 70 to receive either the lacto-wolfberry supplement or a placebo in a hot soup, every day for three months. After the first month of supplementation all of the participants were given a seasonal influenza vaccine.
The team measured the level of influenza-specific antibodies in each participant before and after vaccination.
Results revealed that while all the participants had increased levels of influenza-specific antibodies after being vaccinated, those who had consumed the lacto-wolfberry ‘soup’ had a higher increase in antibodies than those in the control group, who had not.
“People’s natural ability to fight infection often declines as they age, as does their capacity to develop effective vaccine response,” said Vidal, who noted that only around one in five of all elderly people that are vaccinated are in-fact protected against infections.
“The outcomes of this study, as well as data from previous research, suggest dietary supplementation with lacto-wolfberry can strengthen the immune system,” said Vidal.
However, the Nestlé expert said the current ‘exploratory’ study “is really just the first trial, in order to demonstrate that there is an immune enhancing capacity there in humans.”
The next step, she says, will be to perform a longer study to assess whether the fruit-milk combo offers benefits in terms of health outcomes like reducing influenza risk by increasing the number of people that are protected by the vaccine, she explains.
“We believe this could translate into a clinical benefit, for example a reduced rate of respiratory infections,” said Vidal. “This is especially significant for immune compromised populations, such as the elderly.”