The motor industry in Europe and the US in the early 1900s led to the mad rush for plantation rubber in British Malaya (Malaysia now). There was not enough supply of rubber gathered from the Amazon rainforest of Brazil.
A large part of British Malaya was cleared of its forests and planted with rubber trees. Roads and railway lines were laid out to transport smoked rubber sheets to make tyres to ports and exported to UK and the US.
Financiers in London formed financial syndicates to open-up rubber plantations in British Malaya. Many financial syndicates listed their vehicle on the London Stock Exchange. Thus, more lands were cleared to plant rubber trees in British Malaya. Many young Scottish men went to British Malaya to seek their fortunes by becoming rubber planters.
Before the 1900s, many British farmers were involved with coffee plants and reluctant to switch to rubber, which had unknown market. However, Sir Henry Ridley, a government official, believed in the potential the plantation rubber industry. A few British Advisors to the Malay States in British Malaya worked hard to convince British farmers and local Chinese businessmen to consider rubber trees. One British Advisor to the Malay State of Perak, Sir Hugh Low, planted a rubber tree near a polo club at the royal town of Kuala Kangsar, Perak.
I visited the huge rubber tree two weeks ago. A plaque near the rubber tree noted the rubber tree was planted in the 1880s by Sir Hugh Low to convince the locals to plant rubber trees in a big scale.
Then, the rubber tree could only be tapped for rubber latex after 7 to 10 years. Today, the rubber tree can be tapped after 3 to 4 years. As seen in the photos, the oldest rubber tree has a huge trunk as compared to a smaller trunk of today’s rubber trees.
I used to walk passed the oldest rubber tree in Malaysia as a student at the nearby famous Malay College in the 1970s. The rubber tree is still thriving after 140 years.
Last weekend, we visited a few relatives in the Malaysian northern state of Perak. We also admired about 20 140-year old rain trees at the Lake Garden, Taiping. The rain trees were planted by British botanists in 1880s. We were sure that the rain trees were maintained by Malay gardeners. The rain trees are like magnets for locals, enjoying a picnic under them. Newly weds use the rain trees as the background for their photo sessions.
We hope the rain trees can live another 140 years. Please enjoy the rain trees.
In a recent blog, we reported that Bill Gates invested in a company, C16 Biosciences Inc.,that plans to produce palm oil using fermentation process. The company aims to reduce the need to reduce the impact on clearing tropical forests to plant oil palms.
It is reported by The Times, London on June 24th, 2020, that Bill Gates has made an investment in a new venture that aims to solve another global problem. He has put his money in a start-up hopes to develop artificial breast milk to reduce the carbon footprint of mothers who choose not to breastfeed.
Estimates suggest that at least 10 per cent of the world dairy market, a major source of greenhouse gases, is used to produce baby formula milk. The company, Biomilq, an American company, has provided a proof of concept top show the feasibility of its plan. It hopes to produce breast milk artificially from cultured human mammary epithelial cells in about five years (mammary epithelial cells are cells in the thin layer of of tissue that coat and lines the surface of the milk ducts in the breast)
This would be an alternative to formula milk. The firm has already shown that the process can produce lactose and casein, to components of human breast milk. Biomilq is being assisted by an investment of US$3.5 million, mostly from a fund set up by Bill Gates. The idea of growing breast milk in a laboratory is likely to be less alien to the public after the popularity of lab-grown meat.
Biomilq was founded by Michelle Egger and Leila Strickland. Ms Egger was a food scientist, while Ms Strickland was a cell biologist.
Breast feeding is widely touted for its health benefits for babies but many mothers do not have that option. Formula milk is the normal alternative for these mothers. This can cause problems, however, for some children’s digestive systems because it relies on cow’s milk or soy rather than human proteins. Biomilq aims to create something that is as digestible as human breast milk but have a smaller environmental impact than dairy.
The investment by Bill Gates into Biomilq was made through Breakthrough Energy Ventures, set up to focus on climate change.
About Breakthrough Energy Ventures
According to Quartz, the digital business news website (www.qz.com, noted by its senior reporter, Ashkat Rathi on August 26, 2019, Breakthrough Energy Ventures (BEV) is a US$1 billion fund with the aims to fund those technologies that fight climate change.
To be eligible for BEV, a start-up needs to showcase a scientifically sound technology that has the potential to reduce annual global greenhouse-gas emission by at least 500 million MT. Global emissions currently measure about 40 billion MT per year.
Start-up that have these technologies usually struggle to scale, either because the engineering challenge is too big or the business environment to support the companies doesn’t exist. These companies need patient capital. BEV is fine if its investments don’t provide a return for up to 20 years. In September, 2018, Quartz revealed the first nine investments made by BEV. It included three start-ups building energy-storage technologies, two using microbes to cut emissions in agriculture products, and one each working on low-carbon cement, cheap geothermal, nuclear fusion, and a solar-powered technology to collect water from the air. Eight were based in the US and one in Canada.
In the 12 months since the last tranche, of investments, BEV has found 10 more companies that it thinks could help the world cut emissions drastically.
Arnergy: A Nigerian start-up that deploys solar-power solutions for small businesses to provide reliable electricity.
Baseload Capital: A specialized investment entity based in Sweden that funds the deployment of technology developed by start-up Climeon, which uses waste heat to generate power.
Boston Metal: A company based in Boston, US, that uses electricity, instead of coke, to convert iron ore into iron.
Kobold Metals: A company based in San Francisco, US, that uses artificial intelligence to accelerate the search from ethical sources of the metals, like Cobalt, needed to make lithium-ion batteries.
Max: A Nigerian ride-sharing app that deploys two-wheeled motorcycles to move people in cities more safely. BEV’s money will help lower emissions by pushing for the electrician of Max’s vehicle fleet.
Malta: A Boston-based start-up that has developed a way to store renewable electricity renewable energy in the form of heat and cold.
Motif: A Boston-based start-up that develops low-carbon alternatives for everyday food ingredients.
Sierra Energy: A start-up spun out of University of California, Davis, US, that uses oxygen and steam to break down waste into gases, which can be used to make synthetic fuel. The process leaves behind solid sorb metals that can be safely discarded or re-used
SparkMeter: A US-based start-up with a Kenyan office that develops smart meters to grow reliable access to electricity in poor countries.
Sustainable Bioproducts: A Chicago-based start-up whose fermentation technology creates low-carbon proteins that can be used as nutrients for foods.
Breakthrough Energy Venture is the investment arm of Breakthrough Venture, an entity established in 2015 by Bill Gates and a coalition of private investors concerned about the impact of accelerating climate change (www.b-t.energy). The board member s and investors include prominent individuals such as follows:
Samsung is becoming part of our life; Samsung smartphones, Samsung television, Samsung monitor and Samsung refrigerator. It is not surprising this Korean company is a leader in high technology fields as it has the largest portfolio of active families of patents, according to ificlaims.com. This top position had been held by IBM, the American computer company, for almost 27 years. The ificlaims.com ranks 250 parent companies by active patents they own. The holdings of subsidiaries are included in the parent company’s holding. The top 100 companies are listed below.
Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd
International Business Machine Corp
General Electric Co
LG Electronic Inc
Hon Hai Precision Industry Co. Ltd
Toyota Motor Corp
Fujifilm Holdings Corp
General Motors Co
Ford Motor Co
United Technologies Corp
Honda Motor Co Ltd
Seiko Epson Corp
Honeywell International Inc
Ricoh Co Ltd
Dell Technologies Inc
Texas Instruments Inc
Mitsubishi Electric Corp
Johnson and Johnson
Cisco Systems Inc
Brother Industries Ltd
Infineon Technologies AG
Amazon com Inc
NXP Semiconductor BV
Xerox Holdings Corp
Procter and Gamble Co
Western Digital Corp
LG Display Co Ltd
Hyundai Moro Co
Hewlet Packard Enterprise Co
SK Hynix Inc
Micron Technology Inc
National Research Council of Science and Technology
Konica Minolta Inc
BOE Technology Group Co Ltd
Renesas Electronics Corp
Boston Scientific Corp
Sumitomo Electric Industries Ltd
Lenovo Group Ltd
Murata Manufacturing Co Ltd
Nissan Motor Co Ltd
Roche Holdings AG
Verizon Communications Inc
Semiconductor Energy Laboratory Ltd
ZF Friedrichshafen AG
Applied Materials Inc
According to WIPO (World Intellectual Property
Organization) World Intellectual Property Indicators 2019 Report, from 1883 to
1963, the patent office of the US was the leading office for world filing.
Application numbers in Japan and the US were stable until the early 1970s, when
Japan began to see rapid growth—a pattern also observed for the US from the
1980s onward. Among the top five offices, Japan surpassed the US in 1968 and
maintained the top position until 2005. Since the early 2000s, however, the number
of applications filed in Japan has followed a downward trend. Both the EPO
(European Patent Office) and South Korea have seen increases each year since
the early 1980s, as has China since 1995. China surpassed the EPO and South
Korea in 2010, Japan in 2010 and the US in 2011— and now receives the largest
number of application worldwide. This also coincides with the emergence of
Chinese companies to develop their own technologies, which is led by Huawei
Technologies Co., Ltd.
South Korea continues to file the
highest number of patents per unit of GDP
Variations in patenting activity across countries
reflect differences in their size and the structure of their economies. It is
therefore informative to examine resident patent activity with regards to population,
research and development, gross domestic product 9GDP) and other variables.
With 8,561 patent applications per unit of US$100 billion GDP, South Korea continued to file the largest number of patent applications. China (6,183) had the second largest ratio in 2018, followed by Japan (5,101), Germany (1,924) and Switzerland (1,831). However, over the past 11 years, the gap between South Korea and China has narrowed considerably, reflecting the strong growth in resident applications in China, with resident application per unit of GDP increasing from 1,854 in 2008 to 6,183 in 2018.
Focus areas of patent application by
According to the World Intellectual Property Indicator 2019 Report, the leading companies submitted patent applications from 2014 to 2016 were in technology fields as follows:
Telecommunication, digital communication, computer technology, semiconductors, optics and electrical machinery, apparatus and energy
Digital communication, computer technology, IT method for management semiconductor and audio-visual technology
Audio-visual technology, computer technology, optics, telecommunication, semiconductors, measurement and textile and paper machines
Transport, engines and turbines, machine tools, control, measurement, computer technology and digital communication
Engines, pumps and turbines, mechanical elements transport, computer technology, semiconductors, measurement and control
Audio-visual technology, digital communication, telecommunication, computer technology and measurement and optics
Universities and PROs in Korea are
active applicants of patent in 2014 to 2016
The South Korean universities and PROs (public research organizations) are also active applicants of patents. The list of leading universities and PROs is shown below.
University or PRO
AIST (National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology), Japan
Semiconductor, measurement organic fine chemistry and biotechnology and electrical machinery, apparatus and energy
Computer technology, semiconductor thermal processes and apparatus and telecommunication
Electrical machinery, apparatus and energy, computer technology, semiconductors, measurement analysis of biological materials, medical technology, organic fine chemistry, medical technology biotechnology and pharmaceuticals
Measurement, control, thermal processes and apparatus, handling, engines, pumps and turbines and transport
Computer technology, optics, digital communication, semiconductor, measurement, and machine tools
Institute of Technology (China)
machinery, apparatus and energy, computer technology, measurement and
materials and metallurgy and environmental technology
Computer technology, digital communication telecommunication, measurement and optics
Electronics and Telecomm
digital communication, audio-visual technology computer technology and IT
methods for management
Measurement, medical technology, biotechnology, pharmaceutical computer technology and electrical machinery, apparatus and energy
Biotechnology, pharmaceuticals, measurement computer technology and electrical machinery, apparatus and energy
of California, US
Medical technology, biotechnology, pharmaceuticals, organic fine chemistry measurement, computer technology and electrical machinery, apparatus and energy.
Measurement, biotechnology, computer technology materials and metallurgy and electrical machinery, apparatus and energy
It is noted that South Korea’s leading companies
such as Samsung, Hyundai and LG have made technological advances which are
incorporated into their products. Their progress has been supported by
universities and PROs.
China is also progressing up the technological ladder, which is led by Huawei. Taiwan has several companies which possess advanced semiconductor technologies, which is led by TSMC.
Our country, Malaysia, has not been successful in
creating companies that are involved in advanced technology fields. Malaysian
government’s effort to nurture domestic technology companies did not succeed
due to a number of factors.
Malaysia is a leading producer of palm oil as well
as a significant producer of oil and gas. Unlike Taiwan and South Korea,
Malaysian companies are happy to be involved in oil palm plantations that
generate regular profits through increased acreage.
The current turmoil in the oil industry and low prices of palm oil could spur a change in the economic development strategies through high technology industries involving digital and computer technologies. Looking at the advances made by Asian countries like South Korea, Taiwan and China, the challenge of Malaysia to catch-up with these countries is very enormous.
Palm oil is widely used in food, cosmetics, personal care and bio-energy industries. Critics say the production of this plant –derived oil (natural palm oil) had led to deforestation, loss of biodiversity and the destruction of habitats critical for endangered species. Palm oil has unique characteristics, namely an exceptionally melting point and very high saturation level. Some other vegetable oils get close to one of the two, but non to both.
The palm oil industry has grown significantly since
the 19970s. Research efforts by Malaysian Palm Oil Board (MPOB) and Malaysian
companies have managed to improve the yields of oil palm to feed the growing
food needs of the world population. The palm oil industry is worth more than
US90 billion per year.
It is not surprising that innovators and venture capital are targeting to disrupt the palm oil industry. The industry is large and there are many segments that innovators and start-ups can enter the industry. Large chemical companies are also entering with R&D efforts to disrupt the palm oil industry.
We could learn from the experience from the natural rubber in the early 1900s. When the car industry was developing in US and Europe in early 1900s, the tyres used in cars resulted in high demand for natural rubber harvested from wild rubber trees in the Amazon of South America. However, there was limited supply of natural rubber from trees grown in the wild. British planters in Malaya (then Malaysia) experimented with planting of rubber trees based on seeds from the wild rubber trees collected from the Amazon region. Thanks to individuals like Sir Frank Ridley, the rubber plantations in Malaya and Indonesia became the main source of natural rubber to make tyres for the booming car industry in US and Europe.
Since rubber was supplied from Malaya and Indonesia, disruptions to shipping lanes during world wars and other conflicts restricted the supply of natural rubber to make tyres. Scientists in UK, US, Russia and Germany raced to develop an alternative to natural rubber using chemical reaction. By the 1940’s and 1950’s, scientists in Germany, Russia and US succeeded in producing synthetic rubber. Since then natural rubber is used in smaller product segments while synthetic rubber has captured most of the product segments. Synthetic rubber is produced in large chemical complexes based on crude oil. A small town of Akron in Ohio, US, became the synthetic rubber capital of the world.
Race to develop synthetic palm oil
Unlike synthetic rubber where it is produced by
chemical reaction in large chemical facilities, innovators in venture-based
companies, major companies and university laboratories are racing to produce
synthetic palm oil using biotechnology.
These innovators are attempting to disrupt the established palm oil industry. According to the well-known HBS business professor, Clayton M. Christensen, who wrote The Innovator’s Dilemma, innovators planning to disrupt the palm oil industry will enter the segments which are ignored by the natural palm oil industry.
These innovators have been using little-known yeast,
Metschnikowia pulcherrima, used in South Africa’s wine industry to
produce synthetic palm oil.
Innovators in synthetic palm oil
A group of scientists from the University of Bath,
UK, has successfully cultivated an oily yeast that matches palm oil key
characteristics properties almost identically. Early laboratory tests in a
shake flask show that the yeast can produce up to 20 gramme per litre of oil,
giving it a similar lipid oil to palm oil The yeast can also be found pretty
much everywhere, including a huge variety of tree leaves, fruits and flowers. Another
singularity of the yeast is its ability to grow on pretty much any organic
feedstock. It is hoped that waste from the process can feasibly be cycled as a
feedstock as well, helping to close the loop in the supply chain. Other
innovators are attempting to recover valuable co-products to offset the costs
of production of the synthetic palm oil.
According to calculations, quoted in Theguardian.com on 17th, February, 2015, the research group at the University of Bath was attempting to reach a production cost of US$800-900 per MT. It is reported that the closest comparable estimate is for yeast cultured on dry plant matter, which Chinese researchers believe could produce oil at US1,200 per MT. Today, the current price of crude palm oil is US$527 per MT. Thus, there is still a huge price different between synthetic palm oil and natural palm oil.
Since 2015, significant progress had been in the synthetic
palm oil production. More companies and start-ups are involved to secure
technological dominance in the early product life cycle of synthetic palm oil.
There could be another three to five years before a dominance technology
emerges based on the productive yeast of Metschnikowia pulcherrima or
other types of yeast.
The most high-profiled start-up developing synthetic palm oil is C16 Biosciences Inc, a company based in New York, US (website:c16bio.com). The company focuses on fermentation technology, which is a well-proven commercial process that has been used for centuries. The company says that brewing palm oil like beer is the best and most likely path to developing a sustainable palm oil alternative. The company, which was founded in 2017, has received an injection of US$20 million from an investment vehicle owned by a group of billionaires such as Mr Bill Gates, Jeff Bezos, Sir Richard Branson and Mr Michael Bloomberg.
We believe this a significant endorsement in that
there is a need to ensure increased supply of palm oil without incurring
environmental problems of natural palm oil. It is reported by fastcomany.com on
March 3rd, 2020, that C16 Biosciences is producing the synthetic palm oil on a
small scale, and when it comes to market, it will work with product users that
use small amounts of palm oil first such as high-end cosmetics. This is the
typical strategy used by innovators to enter the palm oil market. We believe
that the synthetic palm oil would be considered as a designer palm oil with
unique characteristics to meet specific uses. This is unlike natural palm oil
which has common standards or specifications.
Consumer product companies like Unilever PLC/Unilever NV and Procter and Gamble will be using this designer synthetic palm oil in their high-end cosmetics and beauty products as their customers are likely to be concerned with using natural palm oil. As a dominant technology will emerge in the next few years and after which the focus will be on producing the synthetic palm oil at lower prices. The successful companies in this stage will like attack other segments of the palm oil users with high profit margin, according to the classic business cycle product model.
Other companies which are racing to produce synthetic palm oil include Kiverdi Inc, Revive Eco and Bitterback.
Kiverdi Inc, a start-up based in California, US, is using microbes to convert carbon dioxide into an alternative to palm oil (website: kiverdi.com). The company started based on the aspiration of using carbon dioxide exhaled by NASA astronauts which would be captured by microbes, then converted, with other inputs such as power and water, into food, which would feed the astronauts. It has more than 46 patents granted or pending of carbon transformation technology that can be applied to a range of industries, including the production of synthetic palm oil.
Revive Eco, a
company based in Scotland, UK, is extracting useful oil from coffee waste. As
well as oils, the company turns the waste coffee in other products, such as
natural chemical alternatives and a soil conditioner.
Besides these start-ups, other chemical and
biotechnology firms are developing industrial technology processes to replace
natural palm oil.
The Dutch chemical company, DSM, is already using
fermentation to produce polyunsaturated fatty acids that otherwise might be
sourced from palm oil. The company is pursuing speciality applications. In
2015, it says that currently replacement of natural palm oil by fermentation is
not feasible. However, in longer term, fermentation processes that could
replace palm oil may not be restricted to higher value chemicals. This is
because fermentation co-products, for example, active ingredients and protein
from algae, would make the economic feasibility of production of synthetic palm
This is shown by Solarzyme (website: solazyme.com), a company based in California, US, which is already producing commercial quantities of algal oils that are engineered to be chemically similar to palm products, such as C10 and C12 fatty acids found in palm kernel. The company is supplying a replacement for palm oil derivatives for products such as laundry detergent. The algae are grown in fermentation tanks, where they are being fed with sugar, are harvested within seventy two hours.
The mission of reducing environmental damages caused
by the expanding oil palm plantations to produce palm oil is valued by corporate
investors and venture capital managers. Commercially, there are many segments
of the products that use natural palm oil which can be substituted by higher-priced
synthetic palm oils.
Strategically, most of the palm oil is produced in
Indonesia and Malaysia, which constitutes about 80 per cent of the world’s
supply. Like worries of supply disruptions of natural rubber in the past, and
the impact of global pandemic like Covid-19, which we are experiencing now,
companies and governments in consuming countries will be concerned on the possible
of supply of natural palm oil mainly produced in these two countries. This is
also aggravated by the fact that most products contain a high proportion of
If the existing and future start-ups, funded by investors
such as Mr Bill Gates and other billionaires, and large chemical and biotechnology
manage to do what Solazyme has succeeded, we will see a major disruption to the
palm oil industry. .
The official response from Malaysian Palm Oil Board
was rather muted. When the news came out that Mr Bill Gates has invested in C16Biosciences,
the headline reported in the local newspaper, theedge market.com, was “Synthetic
palm oil lacks nutritional value of
natural palm oil.” Usually, innovators will first attack the high-end
product sectors that use palm oil like cosmetics and not the low-end palm oil
We need to take the advice of the HBS professor, Clayton M. Christensen, who passed recently, who said established companies who dismiss new innovations at the early stage of the product life cycle will be at their own peril. These executives are advised to read his book!
First, accept that Metschnikowia pulcherrima will disrupt parts of the higher-priced palm oil value chain. In addition, Malaysian
plantation companies should also consider brewing their own synthetic palm oil
using local strain of the yeast, Metschnikowia pulcherrima . However, they
need new capabilities such as fermentation and process extraction.
Last week my wife related to me that a
not-so-old gentleman was asking for vitamin C in our local pharmacy. The pharmacist
told him that the stocks of vitamin pills have run out. She added that the stocks
she ordered was also not sure when they would be delivered.
Last weekend, my university, Azman Hashim International School of Business cancelled face-to-face classes. I need to teach my DBA students via online method using Skype.
knows the culprit is Covid-19.
noted an article by Peta Bee in the Health Section of The Times London today.
She interviewed an expert on immunology, Dr Jenna Macciochi, and a lecturer at
the University of Sussex. The following is
an extract of the interview.
Dr Jenna Macciochi’s behaviour is a barometer of how wary we should be about
the immediate threat of coronavirus, it is reassuring that we meet in
a busy café and she greets me warmly — although not quite with a shake of
Beyond that, her guard is clearly
raised. She says that she has travelled by train from Brighton, a journey she
would rather not have made, and that she is mindful of every situation in which
she finds herself interacting with others. “I am taking great care not to go
anywhere unnecessarily,” she says. “I’m being extremely careful and it goes
without saying that I’m stringent about washing my hands.”
we listen to anyone about the pandemic, perhaps it should be Macciochi.
She has an impressive scientific CV; a lecturer in immunology at the University
of Sussex, she previously worked at Imperial College London and is a
contributing editor of scientific journals including the Annals of
Advanced Biomedical Sciences. Her new book, Immunity — The Science
of Staying Well, delves into everything related to our immune system and
what we need to do to protect ourselves against infection. Its publication is
timely — not even she predicted a pandemic of these proportions coming.
“Once real fear was
raised in China, it was a case of gathering data and watching it evolve,” she
says. “But it’s a brand new virus, and while we can look to others from the
same family for clues, ultimately we don’t know what’s going to happen.”
Macciochi, 38, and
the mother of five-year-old twins, says that she has abandoned arrangements to
visit her parents, both in their seventies, out of a desire to protect them.
“There’s a lot of people saying, ‘Oh, I’ll be fine,’ because they are
relatively healthy and might get only mild symptoms anyway,” she says. “But we
seem to be missing the fact that it’s the vulnerable people we need to protect
and the transition we need to contain.”
How we do that does
not come in the form of a manual. Macciochi is reluctant to suggest that we can
“boost” our immune systems through healthy living — “it’s a phrase that is too
often misused by the wellness industry” — but says that we can raise our
personal protection in many ways. Here she tackles the big questions about
protecting ourselves from coronavirus.
I never get colds,
so won’t I be OK?
“We are genetically and immunologically unique. But that is by design because
if we were all immunologically identical, we would react to the same infection
in the same way and our species would die out. Even members of the same family
react differently to different immune system threats. But while some people do
claim never to get cold and flu-like infections and may think that they will
avoid coronavirus too, the reality is we are just more susceptible to some
types of infection and more resilient to others. There’s no hierarchy to this
and none of us is invincible to everything.”
Will taking vitamins
“When thinking about protecting themselves against infection, most people
believe that taking vitamin C, in supplement form, will be helpful. It’s
certainly true that vitamin C plays a key role in immunity and that a
deficiency of it can lead to a higher susceptibility of a cold or virus.
“If you eat fruit
and vegetables, vitamin C is practically unavoidable in the diet. Taking more —
in doses of 1-2g daily — has not been proven to ward off infections, but it
might be helpful in reducing the severity and duration of them.
“When we are ill our
immune cells need almost double the amount of vitamin C they normally do to
fight an infection, so consuming more of it could be beneficial in marginally
reducing the length of time you are suffering by around 8 per cent in adults
and 14 per cent in children, on average.
“If you do a lot of
exercise, it’s worth taking as vitamin C appears to have stronger effects on
people who train hard. In Finnish studies on marathon runners and skiers,
vitamin C supplementation almost halved the duration of a cold, but had little
effect on the sedentary participants.
“Do be aware that
high intakes of vitamin C can cause gastrointestinal upset in some people and
that, even if you do take it, it will not make you invincible.”
Will being fighting
“Physical activity is one of the best ways to prime and even rejuvenate
immunity. A recent British study of male and female long-term cyclists aged 55
to 79 found that, when compared with those of twentysomething sedentary people,
the older cyclists’ immune systems were far superior.
muscles active releases high levels of a specific chemical called interleukin 7
(IL-7) into the blood and that helps to prevent shrinking of a gland of great
importance to immunity. The thymus gland, situated in front of the heart and
behind the sternum, is responsible for producing new T cells, the master
controllers of the immune system.
diminishing in size from our twenties, a process called thymus involution, but
regular exercise halts this, keeping the thymus gland in healthy shape.
Resistance training — lifting weights or your own body weight through
press-ups, lunges and the like — is particularly beneficial in prompting the
release of IL-7. But just moving throughout the day — getting up from your
desk, walking at lunchtime — is more effective than sitting all day and doing a
HIIT class after work.”
But shouldn’t I be
avoiding the gym?
“Gyms tend to pack a lot of people into a confined space, probably not the best
environment to seek out during the coronavirus pandemic. If you do go, take
sensible precautions such as washing your hands often before and after a
workout, wiping equipment with sanitisers and avoiding people who are sniffling
or coughing. Your best bet is to exercise outdoors, running, walking or cycling
alone or in small groups.
“If you usually
train intensely, by all means keep it up. Your body and immunity adapt to
training loads and it’s only if you increase your exercise steeply that it can
start to suppress the immune system. Exercise is a form of stress to the body
and will produce some immune dampening responses if you go at it too hard.
“It used to be
thought that there was a window following prolonged endurance activity in which
immunity was compromised as immune cells disappeared, making people more
susceptible to infection. Science has since shown that this is not the case and
that immune cells are just diverted to where they are needed most after hard
workouts. But sensible precautions are recommended — don’t push too far or too
hard and stay warm and dry when you finish.”
Is it OK to keep
“There are no benefits to drinking alcohol in terms of immunity and it may
actually harm our defences. One reason for this is the effect it has on our
sleep, which may be poorer in quality after a few glasses of wine. Since sleep
disruption is known to raise the risk of catching a cold or the flu, it stands
to reason that your susceptibility to any virus might be increased.
affects the gut microbiome with hard spirits (including gin) particularly
harmful when it comes to decreasing gut bacteria that benefit our immunity. A
weekend of heavy drinking can affect the function of immune-regulating organs
like the liver and explains why people tend to fall ill after partying. It’s
best avoided at this time.”
Are zinc supplements
worth a shot?
“Zinc is an essential mineral that’s needed by every cell in the body and is
vital for normal development and function of cells that are involved in
immunity. It’s not stored in our bodies, so a regular intake is vital — men
need 5.5-6.5mg a day and women 4-7mg and you find it in a range of foods,
including meat, milk, eggs, fish, chickpeas, baked beans, pumpkin seeds, dried
figs and Brazil nuts.
“Whether it’s worth
taking a supplement is debatable, but there is some evidence that zinc lozenges
do help to prevent winter infections in children, and test-tube trials have
shown that it seems to stop viruses getting into cells and improves the power
of immune cells to fight infection, although there’s no confirmation they are
helpful to adults in real-life circumstances. If you do take extra zinc, take a
lozenge for the short term. Prolonged use of more than six weeks can cause an
irritated digestive tract.”
Does eating organic
food make a difference?
“Gut health is a big trend and your microbiota can have a powerful effect on
your immunity. But too many people think that turning to probiotics or kefir is
the way to go. What they should be doing is fertilising the gut bugs they
already have with a diet rich in fibre and containing a diverse range of fruit,
wholegrains and vegetables.
“A lot of soil
microbes have been shown to help our immune system, so consuming fresh produce
as soon after it has been picked as possible is the best bet. There’s some
evidence that organic produce or that picked from an allotment, which might
still have a bit of dirt on it, is superior for the microbiome. Ultimately,
though, just increasing how many fruit and veg you eat is the best step you can
Should I just stop
worrying about coronavirus?
“Worrying definitely makes us more susceptible to infection, and stress has a
known dampening effect on our immunity. I’ve been contacted by so many people
in recent days who are concerned about the spread of the virus, and the best
thing we can do is to take a step back and remove some of the pressure.
“We can’t make
ourselves invincible, but we can reduce the effects of stress and in doing so
raise our levels of protection. Carving time out of our day to change our
routine slightly is essential at the moment. Small and regular practice of things
like meditation can be really helpful, but so can walking outdoors, which
introduces our brains to a wider vista and removes the focus on work and
coronavirus. Try yoga, t’ai chi or reading — any steps that you find help to
relax your mind.”
Will the threat of
coronavirus improve with the weather?
“Weather and the climate could play a part in coronavirus, but the truth is we
can’t be sure. We know that some viruses, influenza for example, prefer cooler
climates and can survive longer on a cold surface, which is why it strikes more
often in winter. Only time will tell if the threat of coronavirus eases as we
move through the seasons.”
Will herd immunity
“The theory behind herd immunity, one of the strategies discussed
by the government, is that a population becomes resistant to an infection
because enough people have developed a resistance to it either through having
the disease or because they’ve had a vaccination against it. It’s sort of a
community immunity that makes it harder for something to spread.
“But we are nowhere
near that point with coronavirus — it’s a brand new virus and nobody yet has
immunity from it except perhaps those who have had it and survived. At the
moment the only way not to get infected is to isolate yourself and distance
yourself from people who may already have it.”
immunosuppressive drugs affect coronavirus?
“People taking this kind of medication for existing health problems are
definitely more susceptible to contracting a virus because their immunity is
compromised, although they would still need to come into contact with an
infected person. So far, there aren’t many case studies to go on, but it could
be that Covid-19 may look different and have different implications for someone
taking immunosuppressive medication.
Since it is the
immune system that produces symptoms of a virus like coughing and a fever,
these people might not initially present with symptoms as severe as other
people. But long-term there could be extra risk of complications from the virus
if they are infected. Without a normal capacity to mount an immune response, it
could mean the virus directly damages the delicate lung cells, something that
is not reversible. The advice is to not stop taking medications unless
instructed by your healthcare provider to do so, and if self-isolating to
ensure you have plenty of your prescription.”
Can you get it and
“One of the concerning things about coronavirus is that some people have tested
positive having had no symptoms at all. They may be spreading the virus without
realising it which is what makes it particularly scary.”
Science of Staying Well by Dr Jenna Macciochi (Thorsons, £14.99)
Cognitive health is a vital part of
healthy living and quality of life. Cognition includes the ability to learn new
things, intuition, judgment, language and remembering. Cognitive health has
remained a major health issue globally. Over the years, people have employed
the use of traditional herds and medicines which contains therapeutic compounds
that help curb diseases and ailments ranging from headaches and migraines to
more condition-specific disorders like Parkinson’s disease.
and omega-3 fatty acids are being used in human nutritional applications to
support brain or cognitive health. Vitamin E, rosemary, ginseng and ginkgo
biloba are used in maintaining general brain health. New cognitive health
ingredients are also being introduced and gaining popularity.
population and increasing prevalence of brain-related diseases such as
Alzheimer’s disease are among the key factors that the growth of the cognitive
health ingredients market.
supplements dominate the global cognitive health market. Functional foods and
beverages is still an emerging application for majority of these ingredients
and offers immense future potential.
ingredients used in cognitive (brain) health
There are a lot of ingredients
positioned for cognitive health, such as vitamins, minerals, CoQ10, omega-3
fatty acids, citicoline and botanical extracts. Majority of the cognitive
health ingredients are also positioned for health benefits other than
supporting brain health. For example, omega-3 ingredients are positioned both
for cardiovascular and cognitive health. However, the positioning of omega-3
fatty acids for cognitive health is emerging due to manufacturers’ interests in
catering to a different target audience. Both ginkgo biloba and ginseng
extracts are primarily positioned as adaptogens (a unique group of herbal ingredients
used to improve the health of adrenal system,
the system that is in charge of the body’s hormonal response to stress) to
improve memory and concentration and decrease the symptoms of
condition-specific mental disorders such as Parkinson’s disease. The cognitive
health benefits of the major ingredients are summarized as follows:
Improves brain function
Reduces the damage caused by Parkinson’s
Helps lower cholesterol
Helps reduce inflammation
Promotes heart health
Enhances eye health
Improves cognitive health
and omega-3 are the most researched and clinically established health
ingredients available for use in functional foods, functional beverage, and
dietary supplement industries. EPA and DHA are the most important omega-3 fatty
acids with strong scientific evidence supporting their health benefits. Omega-3
fatty acids have been associated with numerous health benefits. The cognitive
health benefits have been accepted by consumers.
involved in cognitive (brain) health ingredient market
There are many companies involved in the
cognitive health ingredient market. These include Naturex SA, Ocean Nutrition
Canada, Martek Biosciences Corporation and Cargill. There is a high level of
threat from product substitution in the cognitive health ingredient market. The
increasing demand for health ingredients has resulted in a large number of
ingredients competing for market share. The competition is keen in such
segments such as fatty acids, vitamins and mineral supplements, antioxidants,
botanicals and herbs.
majority of the ingredients’ efficacy and safety, except a few, are backed by
limited science. Additionally, consumers are confused by the offering of such
ingredients in the market place.
these challenges, new companies are entering the cognitive health ingredient
market. The global population is increasingly being affected by brain disorders
such as dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. Continued research efforts have
provided scientific backing to the benefits of cognitive health ingredients.
These efforts have revealed numerous brain-related benefits of a single
omega-3 ingredient market is continuously undergoing consolidation. One large
acquisition exercise was made by DSM which acquired Martek Biosciences in 2010.
The latter was the first company to commercialize DHA produced from sources
other than fish oils.
Global cognitive (brain) health ingredient market
According to a market research company,
Sprout Intelligence, the cognitive (brain) health ingredient market was
estimated to be US1,500 million in 2015. This market was growing at 7 per cent per