The study involved a trial in Cambodia led by the South Australian researchers where varying levels of thiamine (vitamin B1) was added to fish sauce products during the manufacturing process.
Breastfeeding mothers and children who ate the fish sauce were then tested to confirm adequate levels of thiamine was present in their blood to prevent the disease.
Beriberi is caused by thiamine deficiency and in infant cases can quickly progress from mild symptoms such as vomiting and diarrhoea to heart failure.
With the findings published in the Journal of Paediatrics, Principal Nutritionist and Affiliate Professor at SAHMRI Tim Green says the next step is to lobby for funds to expand the trial in a bid to convince the Cambodian government of the merits of thiamine fortification.
“We’ve done this relatively large randomised controlled trial, but we provided the fish sauce in this case,” he says.
“Our next step is to scale up – to get Cambodian government or Cambodian industry involved and show that it works with 100,000 or 200,000 people.
“And if we can show that works, we can provide evidence to the government and they can also mandate the addition of thiamine to fish sauce.”
While fish sauce has no nutritional advantage over other foods trialled in the study, it was selected because of its near ubiquitous use in Cambodian culture.
Fish sauce is produced in centralised locations, making it easier for government and industry to control, and is already fortified with iron
Fortification is used in many countries around the world, but to be effective it is important to select a foodstuff already consumed by the majority of the population.
“Fortification is used in a lot of different settings – we do it in Australia, for example fortifying wheat flour with folic acid, or salt with iodine,” Green says.
“However, the important thing to consider is what you fortify may differ from country to country depending on what the staple is.
“We found that fish sauce in South East Asia is a good vehicle because it’s so popular and so widely consumed.”
While the trial was focused on Cambodia, Green says a similar strategy could be adopted in other South East Asian countries affected by beriberi disease.
“Because beriberi isn’t always recognised and the onset from the initial symptoms – which can be quite mild – to death is so rapid, the best thing to do would be to prevent it in the first place,” Green says.
While the study focused on thiamine fortification, the identification of fish sauce as the food of choice for delivery could also be expanded to cover other nutritional deficiencies.
Green says his team has also considered the possibility of using fish sauce to deliver vitamin B2.
– Thomas Luke
This article was first shared by The Lead on 12 January 2017. Read the original article here.
Climate change is affecting the Earth, through more frequent and intense weather events, such as heatwaves and rising sea levels, and is predicted to do so for generations to come. Changes brought on by anthropogenic climate change, from activities such as the burning of fossil fuels and deforestation, are impacting natural ecosystems on land and at sea, and across all human settlements.
Increased atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO₂) levels – which have jumped by a third since the Industrial Revolution – will also have an effect on agriculture and the staple plant foods we consume and export, such as wheat.
Stressors on agribusiness, such as prolonged droughts and the spread of new pests and diseases, are exacerbated by climate change and need to be managed to ensure the long-term sustainability of Australia’s food production.
Increasing concentrations of CO₂ in the atmosphere significantly increase water efficiency in plants and stimulate plant growth, a process known as the “fertilisation effect”. This leads to more biomass and a higher crop yield; however, elevated carbon dioxide (eCO₂) could decrease the nutritional content of food.
“Understanding the mechanisms and responses of crops to eCO₂ allows us to focus crop breeding research on the best traits to take advantage of the eCO₂ effect,” says Dr Glenn Fitzgerald, a senior research scientist at the Department of Economic Development, Jobs, Transport and Resources.
“The experiments are what we refer to as ‘fully replicated’ – repeated four times and statistically verified for accuracy and precision,” says Fitzgerald. “This allows us to compare our current growing conditions of 400 parts per million (ppm) CO₂ with eCO₂ conditions of 550 ppm – the atmospheric CO₂ concentration level anticipated for 2050.”
The experiments involve injecting CO₂ into the atmosphere around plants via a series of horizontal rings that are raised as the crops grow, and the process is computer-controlled to maintain a CO₂ concentration level of 550 ppm.
“We’re observing around a 25–30% increase in yields under eCO₂ conditions for wheat, field peas, canola and lentils in Australia,” says Fitzgerald.
Pests and disease
While higher CO₂ levels boost crop yields, there is also a link between eCO₂ and an increase in viruses that affect crop growth.
Spread by aphids, BYDV is a common plant virus that affects wheat, barley and oats, and causes yield losses of up to 50%.
“It’s a really underexplored area,” says Dr Jo Luck, director of research, education and training at the Plant Biosecurity Cooperative Research Centre. “We know quite a lot about the effects of drought and increasing temperatures on crops, but we don’t know much about how the increase in temperature and eCO₂ will affect pests and diseases.
“There is a tension between higher yields from eCO₂ and the impacts on growth from pests and diseases. It’s important we consider this in research when we’re looking at food security.”
This increased yield is due to more efficient photosynthesis and because eCO₂ improves the plant’s water-use efficiency.
With atmospheric CO₂ levels rising, less water will be required to produce the same amount of grain. Fitzgerald estimates about a 30% increase in water efficiency for crops grown under eCO₂ conditions.
But nutritional content suffers. “In terms of grain quality, we see a decrease in protein concentration in cereal grains,” says Fitzgerald. The reduction is due to a decrease in the level of nitrogen (N2) in the grain, which occurs because the plant is less efficient at drawing N2 from the soil.
The same reduction in protein concentration is not observed in legumes, however, because of the action of rhizobia – soil bacteria in the roots of legumes that fix N2 and provide an alternative mechanism for making N2 available.
“We are seeing a 1–14% decrease in grain-protein concentration [for eCO₂ levels] and a decrease in bread quality,” says Fitzgerald.
“This is due to the reduction in protein and because changes in the protein composition affect qualities such as elasticity and loaf volume. There is also a decrease of 5–10% in micronutrients such as iron and zinc.”
There could also be health implications for Australians. As the protein content of grains diminishes, carbohydrate levels increase, leading to food with higher caloric content and less nutritional value, potentially exacerbating the current obesity epidemic.
The corollary from the work being undertaken by Fitzgerald is that in a future CO₂-enriched world, there will be more food but it will be less nutritious. “We see an increase in crop growth on one hand, but a reduction in crop quality on the other,” says Fitzgerald.
Fitzgerald says more research into nitrogen-uptake mechanisms in plants is required in order to develop crops that, when grown in eCO₂ environments, can capitalise on increased plant growth while maintaining N2, and protein, levels.
For now, though, while an eCO₂ atmosphere may be good for plants, it might not be so good for us.