First of its kind? Japanese firm develops supplement ingredient that promotes stem cell reproduction

By Tingmin Koe

- Last updated on GMT

A close up photo of an olive tree. © Getty Images
A close up photo of an olive tree. © Getty Images

Related tags stem cells Olive leaf extract FFC

A Japanese company said it has managed to develop an olive leaf extract that could be incorporated into health supplements to promote stem cell reproduction.

The extract, which comes from a specific olive leaf species native to Tunisia, is said to promote stem cell reproduction by increasing the body’s production of the hypoxia-inducible factor 1 (HIF-1).

This is a type of protein which plays a role in promoting stem cell proliferation and differentiation in a hypoxic, or low oxygen environment. 

Based in Toyko, Nutrition Act has developed the olive leaf extract into an ingredient sold under the name HIF1STEM.

Speaking to NutraIngredients-Asia, ​Hiromasa Suzuki, product development department manager at Nutrition Act, said the innovation came from a research project involving the Tsukuba University.

Known as Science and Technology Research Partnership for Sustainable Development (SATREPS), the research project aims to solve problems in developing countries by using Japan’s science and technology.

“We screened for the best olive leaf species that could vitalise stem cells and identified a species that could do this the best,” ​Suzuki said.

The beauty of the ingredient is that it opens a new way for companies to provide stem cell reproduction solution, he pointed out.

He explained that this was because the majority of the products that claim to support stem cell proliferation were mostly skincare products and there were no orally administered solution available.

“Before we developed HIF1STEM, I think we did not have any option to promote stem cell reproduction via oral supplements, except via the use of skincare cosmetics. I believe we are the first company to deliver a food ingredient for vitalising stem cell.”

Asked the mechanism of actions, he explained that the extract has shown to increase HIF-1 production in the body.

In fact, he said that the way the extract worked was based on how cells sensed and adapted to oxygen availability – a discovery which won The Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine 2019.

So far, the company has conducted both preclinical and small-scale human studies using the extract.

One of the findings, published in Journal of Cellular and Molecular Medicine,​ was that it could regulate gene expression related to red blood cell differentiation from hematopoietic stem cells – immature cells which could be differentiated into all types of blood cells.

The company also found that the extract could benefit blood and vascular anti-ageing, such as promoting hematopoietic stem cells reproduction and preventing vascular ageing.

Another benefit can be seen in the skin, such as promoting the reproduction of epidermal stem cells and improving skin barrier.

The daily recommended dosage of the extract is between 125mg and 500mg.

However, to qualify for health benefit claims such as marketing the ingredient for use in Foods with Function Claims (FFC), the company would need to conduct more clinical studies, Suzuki said.

At the same time, the company is studying the use of the extract to benefit other body parts, including joint, muscle, and bone health.

Uses in finished product

So far, the extract has been incorporated into a RTD beverage last Autumn by Japanese Fracora – a brand by Kyowa Corporation.   

At the moment, much of the interest in HIF1STEM is coming from companies that are already making skincare and cosmetic products that support stem cell.

“Because these companies are already recognised for its skincare and cosmetics products that benefit stem cells, even if they cannot make health claims on products containing HIF1STEM, consumers can still understand what the products can do to stem cells.

“Therefore, we are focusing on cosmetic companies that are already in the stem cell business since it is also easier for them to retail products containing HIF1STEM without having to make health claims on the products,” ​Suzuki explained.

Other than beverages, the water-soluble extract can also be made into tablets, capsules, and packaged foods such as jellies.

Aside from HIF1STEM, the 23-year-old firm also has another olive leaf extract known as OleaVita, which won the Ingredient of the Year for weight management at NutraIngredients-Asia Awards 2020.​ However, unlike HIF1STEM, OleaVita is not made from the Tunisia native olive leaf.

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