Vitamin A deficiency is the world’s leading cause of blindness, and in severe cases, it can be fatal. About one-third of the global population of preschool-aged children suffer from this vitamin deficiency, which is most prevalent in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia.
MIT researchers have now developed a new way to fortify foods with vitamin A, which they hope could help to improve the health of millions of people around the world. In a new study, they showed that encapsulating vitamin A in a protective polymer prevents the nutrient from being broken down during cooking or storage.
“Vitamin A is a very important micronutrient, but it’s an unstable molecule,” says Ana Jaklenec, a research scientist at MIT’s Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research. “We wanted to see if our encapsulated vitamin A could fortify a food vehicle like bouillon cubes or flour, throughout storage and cooking, and whether the vitamin A could remain biologically active and be absorbed.”
In a small clinical trial, the researchers showed that when people ate bread fortified with encapsulated vitamin A, the bioavailability of the nutrient was similar to when they consumed vitamin A on its own. The technology has been licensed to two companies that hope to develop it for use in food products.
“This is a study that our team is really excited about because it shows that everything we did in test tubes and animals works safely and effectively in humans,” says Robert Langer, the David H. Koch Institute Professor at MIT and a member of the Koch Institute. “We hope this opens the door for someday helping millions, if not billions, of people in the developing world.”
Jaklenec and Langer are the senior authors of the new study, which appears this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The paper’s lead author is former MIT postdoc Wen Tang, who is now an associate professor at South China University of Technology.
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