The number of older people in Brazil will exceed the number of children and adolescents from 0 to 14 years of age in 2030, according to the Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics (IBGE). Increasing life expectancy causes society to develop solutions that promote healthier aging, especially with regard to the physiological aspects of the aging population. An interesting initiative in this regard is the study of Juliana Frakola, a student at the Sao Carlos Chemical Institute (IQSC) at USP. In her master's thesis, the researcher modified one of the major milk proteins, beta-lactoglobulin, to increase her digestion in the elderly.
To transform the protein, Juliana used ultraviolet light to emit it, generating a reaction that was able to alter its structure. After the procedure, the "new" protein is added to a solution that simulates the gastric conditions of the elderly from saliva to the stomach to check the effectiveness of the digestive process. "We got a 50% increase in the digestion of irradiated protein compared to one that did not get any mild action," the student says. The method used in the study is also applied to evaluate the digestive process in adults and children. In both cases, the increase in digestion was 25%.
In addition to being easily absorbed by the body, the light-irradiated protein becomes better because it generates peptides (small protein fragments) with antioxidant, antihypertensive and anxiolytic functions.
"We can imagine, for example, that if a person consumes a certain amount of this protein daily, he or she may have greater control over hypertension," explains Daniel Cardozo, IQSC professor and research advisor.
In the work, the researchers used a type of ultraviolet light, known for its bactericidal and sterilizing function, which had already been used in the treatment of food to destroy microorganisms. However, scientists have not realized that UV light can facilitate the digestion of proteins.
"Research shows an alternative that can combine the production of higher quality, highly digestible food. This will be very useful for the aging process, ”says Juliana, who was a member of the National Council for Scientific and Technological Development (CNPq).
What is this protein?
Betalactoglobulin is the main whey protein and due to its structural formation associated with lower chewing ability and decreased gastric activity of the elderly, digestion is difficult in the stomach. This resistance can even cause allergies, as if it were a response to an organism that wants to metabolize but cannot. An indispensable drink for those who need weight gain and muscle mass, milk is made up of water, lipids, lactose and proteins, as well as a source of calcium and vitamins.
Several physiological changes are associated with aging, such as osteoporosis, changes in brain, cardiovascular, metabolic functions, and the appearance of sarcopenia – a natural and progressive loss of strength and muscle mass. All these problems can reduce the quality of life and the ability of older people to perform basic daily activities. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the number of people over the age of 60 will reach 2 billion by 2050, a year in which older people in Brazil will represent almost 30% of the national population, according to IBGE. Currently, the life expectancy in the country is 76 years.
Will pasteurized milk pass?
Research conducted at IQSC can benefit not only dairy consumers but also the dairy industry, which is seeking energy-efficient and shorter-term processes that meet the daily nutritional needs of the population.
While techniques that involve raising the temperature of milk processing, such as pasteurization, have high energy costs and can compromise the quality of a product by changing its color, taste or even destruction of proteins, the use of ultraviolet light in this process has several advantages:
"Apart from costing 250 times less than pasteurization, UV milk treatment extends the shelf life of the product, reduces its original characteristics, reduces nutrient loss and has the same food safety as the traditional procedure. – explains Daniel.
From an industrial and economic point of view, whey protein utilization is of great importance. In addition to being important for the production of various products such as cookies, yoghurts and nutritional supplements, whey acts to stimulate muscle mass, maintain bone health and also contribute to weight loss as it reduces sensation. hunger and production of body fat.
About 10 years ago, all this potential was untapped, insofar as whey was considered waste and used as animal feed. With the interest of academia to research the product and open the market to its use, this scenario has changed.
According to Daniel, there is a worldwide working group that aims to develop more nutritious proteins and has challenged hundreds of scientists. Now, based on the results presented in the Julian study, researchers will seek to improve light protein irradiation to further improve its quality. The professor states that the procedure adopted in the work is now ready for industrial use and can be applied directly to the whey to alter the structure of betalactoglobulin.
The research is part of the thematic project "Aging new: technologies and solutions for the production of new dairy products for healthy aging", funded by the São Paulo State Foundation for Research Support (FAPESP), in partnership with the Innovation Fund of Denmark. In addition to the IQSC, two Embrapa units in São Carlos are involved in the project, Instrumentation and Southeastern Animal Husbandry, Paulist State University (UNESP) of Ararquara and the University of Copenhagen in Denmark.