Story by Alexandra Sawatzky, a U of G student writer with SPARK (Students Promoting Awareness of Research Knowledge)
Ontario consumers may have a new reason to incorporate soybeans into their diets. Besides being rich in both macro- and micronutrients, soy’s powerful disease-fighting potential is gaining attention. Of particular interest is the role of soy proteins in reducing chronic gut inflammation.
Working to improve the understanding of soy’s anti-inflammatory properties is Prof. Yoshinori Mine, Department of Food Science. Currently, he’s working to develop dietary supplements from Ontario-grown soybeans that may help reduce the harmful effects of inflammation.
“Our project evaluated the efficacy of soy proteins in controlling inflammation,” says Mine. “By determining the mechanism of action of certain segments of these proteins called peptides, we can learn how to effectively reduce the body’s inflammatory response through dietary interventions.”
An overactive inflammatory response impedes both the innate and adaptive immune systems and limits the body’s ability to repair damaged tissues. When this response is prolonged, it can lead to chronic conditions such as colitis — inflammation of the colon — and Crohn’s disease.
Currently, anti-inflammatory drugs are often prescribed to decrease inflammation, but these can be expensive and pose many negative side effects.
Soy peptides, comprised of short chains of amino acids, are a promising natural solution. They can be made relatively inexpensively and are easily incorporated into supplements or nutraceuticals. Soy supplements have little to no side effects or aftertaste, making them more attractive to consumers as alternative or complementary therapies.
Using mice and pigs as animal models, Mine chemically induced inflammation and tested the efficacy of supplemented soy peptides. Results showed a significant reduction of gut inflammation within a few days.
Recent discoveries indicate that soy peptides can also suppress the growth of fat cells, which may play a role in weight management, diabetes and other inflammation-related diseases.
Mine hopes to use these results to improve consumer awareness of the benefits of soy consumption and a healthy diet in managing both chronic inflammation and disease risks.
“Now that we understand the mechanisms of gut inflammation and the effects of soy peptides as functional foods, we can focus our efforts on preventing chronic diseases such as obesity and diabetes, where these supplements are showing lots of promise,” says Mine.
Working closely with industry partners in Canada and Japan, Mine’s collaborators at the University of Guelph also include Prof. Ming Fan, Department of Animal and Poultry Science; research associate Jennifer Kovacs-Nolan; and postdoctoral fellow Denise Young. This project was funded by OMAFRA and AFMNet.