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Functional Food Expert Dr. Yasuo Watanabe Joins KHNI Scientific Advisory Council

Published on: Jun 21 2021

We are pleased to welcome Dr. Yasuo Watanabe to our Scientific Advisory Council. From the link between mind and body health and the importance of sleep, to the importance of taste and the health benefits of turmeric, kelp, tea catechins and botanical extracts, Dr. Watanabe has a unique expertise and insight on the functional health benefits of food.

In this interview, he shares his perspective on the role of food in supporting health and how Japanese and Asian tradition influence his experience.

“As the Greek physician Hippocrates said ‘Let food be thy medicine and let medicine be thy food’; this is a very fundamental idea for me. We have some nice treasures in nutrition.”

Dr. Watanabe, you are a Medical Doctor with deep experience in the area of functional food, ingredients and health benefits – what led you to researching and working in this area and why do you find this interesting?

Treatments for most of diseases can not be covered using by only medicines and surgical technology, unfortunately. It is very important to reduce the medical expenses in each country by establishing the disease prevention using good integrated practice between Pharm and Food. Particularly, the use of traditional Japanese foods that contain materials such as beta-glucans, tea-catechins, fucoidan, ginger, etc, can be used as a basis of healthy longevity.

Consumers are looking for immune health benefits from their food and beverages – what guidance would you give them?

I always focus on active health for aging persons. For keeping good immune health, the link to the digestive system is key – we have to consider the chewing, swallowing, digesting through the intestine and the activation of enteric bacteria. The digestive system’s role in immunity is one reason why it’s important for functional foods and materials to be taken by the oral administration rather than injection. Some ingredients in food, like beta glucans, can stimulate the Peyer’s patch, while others are absorbed through the small intestine. Through this path, they can boost immune health.

What ingredients do you think have the strongest evidence and potential in terms of health benefits in the arena of immune health?  Now and in the near future?  

Of course, 1,3 -1,6 beta-glucans can be expected to keep or strengthen healthy longevity. And also the tea -catechin, extracts from typical Japanese food materials, coriander leaf and seed extract, Japanese plum, curcumin, mucopolysaccharide and matsutake-mushroom help the protection of decreases of immune activities.

What learnings from your research are you finding to be the most relevant in a society looking more and more to functional food for health benefits?

The ability of foods and ingredients like green tea or fibers to improve cognition or even potentially reduce the risk of chronic disease will become more important as society looks more toward preventing health conditions with diet. The research on green tea is especially interesting and convincing and an area of science to keep an eye on.

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Kerry Health And Nutrition Institute