Palm oil is one of the most abundant natural sources of vitamin E, alpha-tocotrienol, and its unique neuro protective properties is not shared by other natural vitamin E family members. It is also one of the richest sources of natural carotenoids, which is converted into vitamin A in our bodies.
Palm oil is an integral part of everyday life. It is to date the most widely used ingredient in the world, found in everything from food, to household products and cosmetics. It also has a huge potential as a viable alternative to fossil fuel.
However, palm oil is more than just a versatile ingredient; its true value lies in its powerful nutraceutical (products from food sources that have extra health benefits) and pharmaceutical properties. One of the more exciting research findings points to the role of palm oil’s naturally-occurring vitamin E tocotrienol in protecting brain cells during stroke.
“Though vitamin E tocotrienol is an antioxidant, in the case of ischemic stroke, tocotrienol protects the neurons from dying by modulating the chemical signals, making a marked difference in the outcome and recovery process,” said Dr Yuen Kah Hay from Universiti Sains Malaysia’s School of Pharmaceutical Sciences.
There are numerous research available on the neuroprotective properties of vitamin E tocotrienol and its role as preventive treatment for neurodegenerative diseases and dementia due to its proven ability to reduce the growth of white matter lesions, he added.
Dr Yuen was giving his presentation at a forum onCommercialising Downstream Business in Palm Food & Health (Ideas, Support & Grants) that was organised by the Economic Transformation Programme (ETP) team recently (pic).
Palm oil is one of the most abundant natural sources of vitamin E tocotrienol, and its unique neuro protective properties is not shared by other natural vitamin E family members. It is also one of the richest sources of natural carotenoids, which is converted into vitamin A in our bodies. Other nutrients include palm phenolics, phytosterols, squalene and Coenzyme Q.
Palm carotenoids have 15 times the retinol/vitamin A equivalent of a carrot and 300 times more than a tomato, said Dr Yuen, who added that palm carotenoids can play a huge role in reducing vitamin A deficiency worldwide.
These super nutrients in palm oil add significant value to the downstream segment of the industry, especially when developing high value nutraceutical products as well as fortifying existing products with palm oil derived nutrients.
Rosidah Radzian, the director of product development and advisory services division of the Malaysian Palm Oil Board (MPOB), believes that high value palm oil products will be able to break the perception barrier created by palm oil detractors, as well as offer a diverse source of revenue for the sector by opening up new markets and product lines.
Speaking at the forum, she said that export of palm-based products had shown no significant growth in the last five years, and that finding new product lines would help spur the industry. She pointed out that finished products including shortening, margarine and soap accounted for only 2.7% of the RM63.7 billion export revenue in 2014.
“Malaysia is the first in the world to commercialise palm oil nutrients including tocotrienol and despite its significant pharmaceutical and nutraceutical benefits, tocotrienol is generally unknown.
“I believe the addition palm oil nutrients especially tocotrienol in finished palm-based food and health products will not only create higher value for export purposes but also expand the usage of these nutrients, creating greater awareness globally, ” said Rosidah.
She added that greater awareness would also help expedite the growth of palm-based food and health products downstream.
Lau Kwee Ying, business development & planning director of KLK Oleo, was similarly enthused about the future of palm-based food and health products. In his presentation, Lau said tocotrienol represented only 8.2% of the global vitamin E market worth US$612 million, and that it had huge potential for growth.
In order to boost activities in the downstream segment of palm oil-based food and health-products, the government has allocated a RM30 million grant under the Entry Point Project (EPP) 8 of the ETP.
Activities targeted include the commercialisation of palm-based phytonutrients, R&D and clinical trials on evaluating the benefits of both tocotrienols/carotenoids on chronic diseases as well as clinical trials on lipid nutrition.
Apart from the grant, there will also be technical support provided by MPOB for companies venturing into this sector. Rosidah hoped that this effort would attract investments into the downstream food and health sector.
The palm oil sector in Malaysia is limited by the lack of land. However, continuous growth is possible by adding value to each segment of industry value chain, said the director of National Key Economic Areas (NKEA) for Palm Oil and Rubber, ETP Investment and Innovation, Ku Kok Peng (pic).
Ku said numerous efforts like increasing yield and oil extraction; finding diverse uses like turning palm oil waste into biogas; and developing high value added palm-based products are among the ongoing-initiatives under the NKEA for Palm Oil, which spans across the entire chain, from upstream to downstream.
To this end, he said 12 R&D grants for clinical trials on palm phytonutrients and 10 business proposal for the commercialisation of high value food and health products have been approved to date.
“The development of high-value and demand worthy palm-based food and health products, which comes under EPP 8, would not only give the Malaysian palm oil sector an added edge over their competitors but also provide a substantial new revenue stream for this sector,” Ku added.