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Just a spoonful of sugar...

by Rachel Broadley

Dr Talitha Best.A spoonful of sugar a day can help your memory according to UniSA Research Fellow Dr Talitha Best (pictured right), but, sadly for sweet-tooths, there’s not a grain of the sweet stuff in sight as the benefits are only found in plant sugars.

Plant sugar is the simple term to describe the different types of sugars found in plants such as aloe vera, larch, artichokes, mushrooms, some broccolis and some seaweeds.

Dr Best’s research focuses on the impact of different plant sugars on how people think, feel and their overall memory and mood, particularly in middle-aged adults.

She says her studies have shown that in healthy adults aged 45 to 60, there is a benefit to how people think, perform memory tasks and their overall mood after they have taken different types of plant sugars, also known as polysaccharides.

“In a number of studies we’ve shown that these plant saccharides are related to better memory performance and mood. In particular, after 12 weeks of supplementation, study participants show better learning and recall of information as well as better mood. For example, they are able to recall words from a shopping list or sequences of information better,” Dr Best says.

“My research supports the health message to eat a good range of different fruits and vegetables. It’s important not just to have your usual greens like beans or broccoli but also to have things like artichokes, mushrooms, spinach and different types of cabbages when in season.

“It also supports the idea that for middle-aged adults dietary interventions, such as the plant saccharides used in my research, can actually impact how you think and feel at an everyday level. It’s really exciting to think that people can use a supplement which makes them feel and perform differently.”

Dr Best has been awarded a Researchers in Business grant through Enterprise Connect, an Australian Government initiative in the Department of Innovation, Industry, Science and Research.

Researchers in Business grants provide funding to place researchers within businesses to develop research innovation and commercial capabilities.

Now a month in to the year-long project, called Develop a sustainable approach to research into Australian plant sugar-based products, Dr Best says she is excited to have the opportunity to work with industry.

“It’s really exciting to see how my work can fit in to a broader context, how it can support Australian research and innovation and business enterprise,” she says.

“I’m working with Mannatech Australia Proprietary Limited. They are an Australian business that has patented, commercially available plant polysaccharide-based supplements.

“I’d like to further develop knowledge around polysaccharides for brain health for Mannatech but more importantly, to further the application of this research for Australian health; to make a clear, sustainable connection between the research and industry sectors to develop new ideas, increase competitiveness in business and distribute knowledge and health messages to the Australian public.”

Dr Best will work with Mannatech until September 2012 to further her research into the effects of plant sugars on the human brain.