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POTS Digital: Virtual PINC 2021 Summary (Session 2)

March 15, 2021

“Sustaining Healthy Lifestyles from Fats and Bioactives”

Summary of Session 2

Palm Carotenes And Palm Phenolics: Emerging Opportunities

During the recent Virtual Palm International Nutra-Cosmeceutical Conference (PINC 2021), speakers highlighted recent developments in Red Palm Oil and Oil Palm Phenolic research and the current clinical trials undertaken for disease management. The red palm oil is abundantly rich in carotenoids-precursor for vitamin A, and the  oil palm fruit has phenolic compounds that have nutraceutical benefits.

Carotenoids are a class of phytonutrients that are found in the cells of a wide variety of plants, algae and bacteria. They act as an important antioxidant in the human body which functions to deactivate free radicals cells by reacting with other molecules. They also have strong cancer-fighting properties, anti-inflammatory and immune system benefits. Upon ingestion with fat, carotenoids are converted by the body to vitamin A, which is essential for vision and normal growth and development. There are more than 600 types of carotenoids in which the most common carotenoids are alpha carotene, beta carotene, beta cryptoxanthin, lutein, zeaxanthin and lycopene. They are classified into two groups namely carotenes and xanthophylls. The difference between the two groups is xanthophylls contain oxygen, while carotenes are hydrocarbons and do not contain oxygen. Crude palm oil (CPO) contains 500–700 ppm of carotenoids, mainly α- and β-carotenes, which constitute more than 80% of the total carotenoids in palm oil. According to Dr Canas [1], dysmetabolic obesity during childhood and adolescence represents one of the greatest therapeutic challenges for healthcare systems worldwide. In the last 30 years, the global rates of obesity have more than doubled. Recent meta-analysis studies suggested an inverse association between lower carotenoid levels and exposure and the prevalence of metabolic syndrome in the general population, independent of serum retinol (vitamin A) levels. The two double-blind randomized placebo-controlled studies by Dr Jose Atilio Canas showed that mixed carotenoids supplementation in children with obesity suggest a putative beneficial role of beta-carotene in the prevention and/or management of obesity and related comorbidities. He also added that further studies are warranted to confirm his findings.

According to WHO, about 190 million pre-school children in under-developed countries, especially in the regions of Africa and South-East Asia, are vitamin A deficient (VAD). It was also reported that 2.8 million pre-school children in middle-income countries are at risk of blindness or active xerophthalmia due to the deficiency of vitamin A . Statistics have also revealed that 250,000 to 500,000 children become blind yearly and half of which die within a year of blindness. Children require higher levels of vitamin A to maintain normal vision, develop the brain and have better immunity to infections. Ocular signs of VAD are night blindness, bitot’s spot, cornea ulcer, conjunctival xerosis, corneal xerosis, and corneal scaring. Under-previleged communities are experiencing the ocular manifestation of VAD, in particular, Orang Asal children. Red palm oil has improved serum retinol level in children in Africa, China, and India. A study on screening and intervention of VAD among school children in Malaysia was initiated by Dr. Teng Kim-Tiu and colleagues [2]. After completing the screening phase, to provide baseline to the study, the school children were given red palm olein-fortified biscuit supplementation. The biscuits were formulated with four different flavours-vanilla, vanilla oat, chocolate, and chocolate oat- to provide variety during the 6-month period of the intervention phase. On average, subjects are expected to receive 336 𝜇g retinol equivalent of vitamin A per day for a week period. This would fulfill the 70% target of recommended nutrient intake (RNI) of vitamin A for children between the ages of 7-12 years old. During the preliminary screening phase, subjects were dewormed and round worms were found in faecal samples, prior to supplementation. Some of the preliminary findings of the study include; prevalence of VAD was high in northern and central regions of Malaysia, mild in southern and Sarawak regions, and moderate in Sabah. 42.7% of subjects with VAD had conjunctival xerosis. Soil-transmitted helminth (STH) infections can be caused by roundworms, whipworms, and hookworms. The occurrence of STH was mostly contributed by whipworms, especially in northern and central regions. The prevalence of intestinal protozoan infections was relatively lower than STH. Prevalence of anemia due to low haemoglobin level was highest in northern and central regions. Iron deficiency (ID) due to low ferritin concentration and iron deficiency anemia (DA) was also highest in northern and central regions. Based on WHO standard, 39% of children were found to be stunted. 33% were found to be underweight, which is very high based on WHO. The study is ongoing due to be completed after a few more phases-post intervention and post-200 days intervention. 

Bioactive complex derived from oil palm fruit is composed of a unique water-soluble polyphenols, protein, fiber, potassium and carbohydrates. Dr. Shawn Talbott and colleagues [3] have undertaken several human supplementation trials to elucidate the benefits of palm bioactives complex on cardiovascular stress and psychological mood state. According to Dr. Talbott, polyphenols are known to have potent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties that may have cardiovascular and neurologic health benefits. He explained that cardiovascular diseases such as heart attack have significant connections with psychological conditions such as depression. Dynamic changes in heart rate variability are considered as markers for autonomic nervous system (ANS) balance and psychological mood states, including depression, anxiety, overtraining and burnout. He indicated that heart rate variability is reduced in both heart disease and depression, suggesting a common physiological mechanism in the heart and brain. Data from his study has shown that the palm bioactives complex reduces cardiovascular stress and improves psychological mood state. The inflammatory markers showed variable results, but the oxidation reduction capacity was found increased following supplementation, indicating an improved cellular antioxidant capacity. He concluded that palm bioactives supplementation resulted in meaningful “physical” heart benefits and also improved “mental” brain benefits. Furthermore, his research findings are the first to show that palm bioactives support the multi-faceted psychophysiological “Heart-Brain-Axis” with simultaneous and coordinated improvements in both physical and mental performance.3


1. Jose Atilio Canas. Role of Carotenoid Supplementation for the Prevention of Cardiometabolic Risk and Visceral Obesity in Children. Paper presented at the Virtual Palm International Nutra-Cosmeceutical Conference (PINC 2021), 6-8 January 2021, Kuala Lumpur.

2. Teng Kim-Tiu. Red palm oil in addressing vitamin A deficiency: school program in Malaysia. Paper presented at the Virtual Palm International Nutra-Cosmeceutical Conference (PINC 2021), 6-8 January 2021, Kuala Lumpur.

3. Dr. Shawn Talbott. Palm Fruit Bioactives Complex (PFBc) Activates the Heart-Brain-Axis. Paper presented at the Virtual Palm International Nutra-Cosmeceutical Conference (PINC 2021), 6-8 January 2021, Kuala Lumpur.