Headline news roundup: September 2023

By Olivia Haslam

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Sustainability Fermentation Infant formula Menopause AI Astaxanthin Regulation Vitamin d ultra processed food Meal replacement

From WHO fighting infant formula marketing to enhanced botanical bioavailability with fermentation, September’s news roundup covers the latest developments in health, nutrition, and regulatory changes.

This month's news roundup delves into the WHO's AI tool combating infant formula marketing, women's health challenges during menopause, a game-changing EU regulation for astaxanthin, industry’s defence of ultra-processed foods, and much more.

WHO AI tool to clampdown on infant formula marketing

The World Health Organisation (WHO) Europe has introduced an artificial intelligence (AI) tool​ to combat the marketing of harmful products directed at children. WHO is urging consumers to utilise this tool​ by capturing and anonymously uploading screenshots or photos of online and offline marketing that undermines efforts to promote and protect breastfeeding.

The organisation highlights that the marketing of breastmilk substitutes (BMS) poses a significant threat to breastfeeding initiatives, citing evidence​ linking it to childhood obesity.

Dr. Kremlin Wickramasinghe, WHO/Europe Regional Adviser on Nutrition, emphasised the pressing need to address unethical marketing of infant formula, especially in the digital realm, where sophisticated and unregulated strategies prevail.

Menopause: Women’s health at risk due to avoidable nutrient deficiencies

Menopause poses significant nutritional challenges for women, with nearly half expressing concerns about their diets' adequacy to support them through this life stage, as per a report by the Health & Food Supplements Information Service (HSIS).

The report highlighted​ that 71% of women acknowledge the role of a healthy diet in alleviating menopausal symptoms, however, a Perspectus Global survey revealed that 20% of women are not addressing nutrient deficiencies.

Key nutrients like vitamin D, calcium, B vitamins, and omega-3 fatty acids become more crucial during menopause, especially due to reduced nutrient absorption​ efficiency in the gut and declining oestrogen levels​. The report emphasised the need for addressing these deficiencies through supplements and dietary adjustments, considering the potential economic and health impacts of unaddressed menopausal symptoms on women and society as a whole.

New EU regulation a 'pivotal moment' for astaxanthin to support 'the well-being of all ages'

A new EU regulation​ represents a significant milestone for the astaxanthin industry, as it eliminates restrictive labelling and permits the use of astaxanthin supplements for children as young as three years old.

The European Commission revised the regulation​ in response to a dossier submitted by The Natural Algae Astaxanthin Association (NAXA) in December 2022, altering the previous labelling requirements that discouraged the consumption of astaxanthin supplements by children and adolescents under 14. The updated regulation now allows the use of astaxanthin in supplements for children aged 3-9 and adolescents aged 10-13 at specified dosage levels.

Industry experts view this development as pivotal for the industry and a reflection of the safety of astaxanthin for various age groups.

Vitamin D’s role in supporting women’s urogenital and sexual health

A recent review​ explored the potential benefits of vitamin D supplementation for women's urogenital and sexual health during menopause. The study​ suggests that vitamin D supplementation may improve vaginal health by regulating pH levels and enhancing epithelial maintenance, reducing the risk of urinary tract infections, and enhancing sexual and pelvic floor function. 

Vitamin D's efficacy in treating these symptoms stemmed from its presence in reproductive tissues and its influence on vaginal integrity and microbial balance.

However, the researchers highlight the need for further research to determine optimal dosages, treatment durations, and long-term effects.

Challenging the vilification of ultra-processed foods

James Collier, the co-founder of Huel, challenged the prevailing negative view of all ultra-processed foods (UPFs)​, arguing that such categorisations are an oversimplification.

UPFs have garnered recent attention due to media coverage linking them to rising health concerns​ like diabetes and cancer, but Collier contends that labelling a product as 'unhealthy' solely because it's ultra-processed is overly simplistic.

Huel's meal replacements, although falling into the ultra-processed category, aim to provide complete nutrition while addressing modern eating habits and environmental concerns. Collier and others believe that classification systems like NOVA​, which categorise foods based on processing, fail to communicate the nuances of nutrition to consumers.

They suggest focusing on a food's nutritional value rather than its processing level and emphasised collaboration among academics, industry professionals, and policymakers to address broader issues of nutrition, health, and socioeconomic factors rather than placing blame solely on consumer choices.

Fermedics: Enhancing botanical bioavailability with fermentation

Fermedics, the ingredients manufacturing startup, is utilising targeted fermentation to enhance the bioavailability and digestibility of botanicals​, thereby increasing the efficacy of dietary supplements. 

By employing fermentation on medicinal plants, the company aims to address common imbalances in gut microbiomes caused by modern lifestyles and diets with a portfolio of 15 fermented ingredients.

The process not only facilitates the absorption of nutrients but also transforms secondary plant metabolites into biologically active forms while removing anti-nutrients that hinder nutrient absorption.

"There’s not plenty more fish in the sea" but GM crop is ripe for commercialisation

Researchers at Rothamsted Research in the UK, led by Professor Johnathan Napier, reached a milestone in the development of a genetically modified camelina seed oil​ that is rich in omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA​.

After 25 years of research, an application for regulatory approval has been submitted for the industrial use of this modified Camelina plant.

The project aims to address the growing demand for sustainable omega-3 sources in industries like aquafeed, human nutrition, and pharmaceuticals, and the team is gearing up for immediate commercial-scale production upon regulatory approval to meet the changing needs of various markets requiring omega-3 oil.

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