The head of the Ireland-based study said food scientists, medical scientists and pharmaceutical companies must work together to produce functional foods to treat chronic diseases.

A team of researchers based at the Bernal Institute at the University of Limerick (UL) has developed a new guideline for designing functional foods to treat a variety of chronic conditions.

Functional foods are foods that provide nutrition and work in a way that positively affects the body, similar to medicine.

According to the study, the food has the potential to help treat heart diseases such as atherosclerosis.

“The capacity of our food to do more than provide us with nutrition is vast and relatively unexplored,” said study leader Daniel Granato, UL professor of nutritional sciences and health.

“Cardiovascular disease is a leading cause of death, but it is preventable. “By bringing together food scientists, medical scientists and pharmaceutical companies, we can use the same methods used to make drugs and produce foods that can mitigate health problems,” added Granato.

The study was published in Trends in Food Science and Technology, an academic journal. The UL researchers were joined on the project by academics from the Federal University of Alfenas and the Universidade Federal de Minas Gerais in Brazil.

Granato and his team proposed a precise computational approach to design functional foods by predicting their bioactivity. This allowed researchers to map how different food components benefit the body.

The study also drew attention to the potential of functional foods to treat disease and reduce the burden on global health services. Functional foods are not widely available on the market, despite their potential to help prevent conditions such as type 2 diabetes and glucose intolerance. Both are major causes of heart disease.

Nutritional science, cardiovascular therapy and computer modeling must be linked to produce functional foods that can mitigate atherosclerosis, according to Granato. He urged food and drug companies to take note.

“This is critical to achieving the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals in good health and well-being, as well as ensuring healthy lives and promoting well-being for all at all ages, by optimizing the discovery of sources of bioactive compounds and reducing the time to bring new functional foods to market,” he said.

Granato’s co-author and senior lecturer in UL’s Department of Biological Sciences, Dr. Andreas Grabrucker, said this approach could go far beyond heart disease.

“This will form the basis of a new research project at UL that aims to identify functional foods that reduce the risk of neurodegenerative disorders such as Alzheimer’s,” he said.

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Limerick researchers’ findings show potential of food to treat heart disease

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