Professor Marlena Kruger, from the Institute of Food Nutrition and Human Health, has been awarded $500,000 in funding for the study by the Ministry of Science and Innovation and the Japan Science and Technology Agency.
The Japanese research partner is Dr Yoshiko Ishimi, from the National Institute of Health and Nutrition in Japan. A post-doctoral fellow from Japan will be located at Massey for the duration of the studies.
Professor Kruger says the loss of oestrogen in post-menopausal women makes them more susceptible to osteoporosis. “The rapid and progressive bone loss associated with oestrogen deficiency at menopause followed by sustained bone loss with aging leads to vulnerability to osteoporosis,” she says. “Replacement therapy has been used with some success, however long term use has been linked to breast cancer.”
This new study will focus on phytoestrogens – plant-derived oestrogen-like molecules that include isoflavones like Daidzein, which could provide an alternative to oestrogen replacement therapy. Results from research into phytoestrogens have been mixed, as it is not fully metabolised, especially in Caucasian women.
“However, recent research indicates that gut bacteria can be manipulated in order to modify the metabolism of the isoflavones in the large intestine,” Professor Kruger says.
If metabolised correctly, the phytoestrogens are effective as a supplement in menopausal women. The study will evaluate the effects of pairing these soybean isoflavones with New Zealand food components to aid metabolism.
Professor Kruger then hopes to develop products in conjunction with New Zealand food manufacturers that can curb osteoporosis by combining phytoestrogens with other active ingredients into functional foods.
Figures from the International Osteoporosis Foundation show in New Zealand there were an estimated 84,000 osteoporotic fractures in 2007, with 60 per cent of these occurring in women. The total cost of osteoporosis in New Zealand is estimated to be over $1.15 billion per year, and it is estimated that both the number of osteoporotic fractures and the cost of healthcare associated with osteoporosis will increase by over 30 per cent between 2007-2020.