AsianScientist (Feb. 8, 2019) – Scientists at Hong Kong Polytechnic University (PolyU) have developed a nano-encapsulation technology for optimizing maternal and fetal absorption of docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). Their findings are published in the journal Nanomedicine: Nanotechnology, Biology and Medicine.
DHA, a type of omega-3 fatty acid naturally found in breast milk and fish oil, is an important nutrient for the development and function of the brain. It is primarily obtained from the diet, and is preferentially transferred from mother to fetus across the placenta. However, for people who are unable to get sufficient DHA from normal dietary sources, particularly those in late pregnancy, early childhood or with cancer or declining cognitive abilities, DHA supplementation is recommended.
Given that DHA is highly unsaturated and is vulnerable to oxidation and degradation under acid conditions, researchers are looking into the fate of DHA in the body.
To help overcome the problems in DHA absorption and transfer, researchers led by Assistant Processor Wang Yi and Professor Wong Man-sau at PolyU invented a nano-encapsulation technology to protect DHA from oxidation. The team used zein, an edible corn protein, as the encapsulation material to mimic milk fat globule membranes. The nano-capsule forms a core-shell structure to protect DHA in fish oil throughout gastric digestion and facilitate DHA absorption in the brain, intestines and placenta.
Assessing the effectiveness of nano-encapsulation technology in enhancing DHA absorption, the researchers carried out experiments on maternal mice and their offspring. Two groups of maternal mice were fed with either normal fish oil (normal-FO) or nano-encapsulated fish oil (nano-FO).
The team observed that the DHA concentration in the duodenum and jejunum of the nano-FO group was significantly higher than that of the normal-FO group. The result implies that DHA, when protected by the encapsulation structure from oxidation and degradation under stomach’s acidic conditions, is successfully released in the upper two parts of the small intestine of the nano-FO group.
Furthermore, the DHA content in the brains of the maternal mice fed with nano-FO were significantly higher, indicating that the blood-brain barrier was overcome and DHA was delivered to the brain more effectively when the fish oil was encapsulated.
The team also conducted tracer studies on the offspring of the maternal mice, noting that offspring receiving normal-FO in high doses, or nano-FO in low and high doses, were more curious about new things and demonstrated better memory and learning capabilities.
“Our findings indicated that [our nano-encapsulation] technology can help overcome the blood-brain barrier in DHA delivery. We therefore believe that it could be further applied to enhance the efficiency of drugs [to the brains of] patients with dementia or Alzheimer’s disease,” said Wang.
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