Alcorn Scientist Studies Land-based Source of Seafood Oils to Fight Heart Disease and Obesity

Dr. Michael Ezekwe, professor of animal science and director of Alcorn State University Swine Development Center, published a landmark research paper on fighting heart disease and obesity. The article, “Nutritive composition of omega-3 fatty acids-rich Ricinodendron heudelotii and its potential for nutrition,” was published in the December, 2014 issue of the International Journal of Nutrition and Metabolism.

Ezekwe and his colleagues Dr. Samuel Besong, professor and chairperson of the Delaware State University Department of Human Ecology, and Ramon Johnson, former laboratory technician at Alcorn, reported finding an abundance of two essential oils (EPA and DHA) in a tropical tree njangsa (Ricinodendron heudelotii).

“These oils are usually present in oily seafood, which is not maintainable because of the limited seafood supply to meet human nutritional needs,” said Ezekwe.

“Njangsa”, as these trees are known locally in Cameroon where they are consumed in soups and other food condiments, grow in the forest of west and central Africa. The tree produces fruits that are manually shelled to collect oil seeds that are dried, boiled and cracked.

A compositional analysis of the seed revealed a unique nutrient presence of long-chain omega-3 fatty acids not usually associated with any plant material yet studied.

“The importance of the finding cannot be overemphasized as these oils are lacking in today’s western diets. However, they are considered very important brain food that helps brain development and protects against diseases. These oils are a vital part of the retina and the membrane of the brain,” Ezekwe added.

During the experiments with hogs, the animals were fed a diet containing the oil seeds that allowed them to deposit less backfat and have more antioxidants — vitamins A and E – in the meat. A development of strategies to increase the productivity of njangsa trees for human and animal supplementation will guarantee the supply of these unique nutrients from sustainable land-based sources. More research is needed to explore the adoption of R. heudelotii oil seeds to combat human obesity and heart disease.

For more information regarding this research, contact Dr. Michael Ezekwe at [email protected] or (601) 877-3949.

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