Dr Andrea Braakhuis from the University of Auckland has received $122,160.00 of funding from the High-Value Nutrition (HVN) National Science Challenge and industry partner Ārepa for a 24 month project, which will develop and test a new anti-pollution smart drink to combat the effects of air pollution and improve aspects of performance.

Air pollution, including smog and ozone, has been estimated to be responsible for several millions of deaths worldwide each year, the majority of which are attributed to cardiovascular causes. Regular aerobic exercise is recommended by physicians to improve health and longevity. However, people exercising in urban regions are often in contact with air pollution, which includes particles and gases associated with respiratory distress, poor lung function and irritation.

Anti-pollution food products are experiencing significant growth in recent years due to worsening air quality world-wide. There is also increasing awareness and concern regarding the impact of various environmental pollutants on cardiovascular and lung function.

To date, little is known about how air pollution and exercise together affect lung function, and to what extent dietary or specific products nutritional properties can offset the negative effects of air pollution.

Dr Braakhuis and her team will work with industry partner Ārepa Limited, a New Zealand based food-technology company that currently produces a ‘natural smart drink’, which is already popular because of its positive cognitive and health benefits. One of the main ingredients in Ārepa is Neuroberry blackcurrants, which is a specific variant of the berry that are unique to New Zealand.

Blackcurrants are amongst the top dietary sources of anthocyanins and other bioactive phytochemical. These naturally occurring compounds  have been reported to protect against exercise-induced oxidative stress in humans, and to benefit cardiovascular health and lung function.

“We propose to develop and test a smart drink containing key nutrients thought to improve athletic performance and lung function,” says lead researcher Dr Andrea Braakhuis. “The idea is to support those exercising and living in polluted environments,” she says. “We believe that by incorporating the exercising public into our study, this will allow research to be conducted on a poorly investigated topic and assist the development of a new smart drink to assist the exercising public to better deal with air pollution,” she says.

Data from previous studies has shown improvements in cognitive function in athletes given Ārepa, and, more importantly, athletic performance is improved when taking New Zealand blackcurrant anthocyanins.

“The anthocyanin-rich berries grown in New Zealand are anti-inflammatory and contain bioactive compounds that may support lung function for those exercising in polluted environments,” says Dr Braakhuis. “We propose to develop a product with blackcurrant and other ingredients that are likely to support optimal athletic performance and lung function,” she says. This will be an extension to the current successful product line of Ārepa.

“We are honoured to be a part of the High-Value Nutrition National Science Challenge Programme. It’s been a goal for a number of years to undertake clinical and novel research like this,” says founder and CEO of Ārepa Angus Brown. “We exist to feed the brain and body in the modern world and represent the best of New Zealand on the world stage and this exciting study is going to help us on that journey,” he adds.

“This project will develop research expertise in New Zealand and develop opportunities for export for Ārepa Limited, “ says Joanne Todd, HVN National Science Challenge Director. “This fits well with the strategic direction of HVN in the Immune Health stream, as it specifically targets the effects of air pollution on lung function, immunity and inflammatory processes,” she says.

The HVN Challenge is a mission-led programme of innovative research into the health and wellbeing attributes of New Zealand produced foods for our major export markets. The Challenge will over the next five years fund a number of projects through a competitive contestable funding process, and has recently approved other contestable funding projects that will be completed together with businesses partners.

Note – What are Anthocyanins? Anthocyanins are a type of flavonoid (or class of compounds) with biological activity when ingested. They are the main compounds that provide the purple, red and blue pigments to berries and other fruits.