Hearts and chicks Sunday, October 20, 2002
You will never look at a chick the same way again after you  read COLIN KHOO's exclusive from a scientist who has discovered an as-yet-unnamed protein component found in chicken extract that can do wonders for the heart.
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MORE often than not, the word chicken refers to a dish or snack.   Think of the many ways a chicken can be cooked and enjoyed, and the  almost endless nouns come to mind: chicken-wings, chicken-chop, chicken-fritter, chicken-curry, chicken-rice, etc.
Despite its significance in the pantheon of culinary delicacies,  chicken is seldom, if at all, mentioned when it comes to functional  food. Functional what, you might ask.
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"Functional food is food which, apart from providing nutrients to the body, contain biological compounds which can boost the immune system and has special healing agents," says Dr Sim Meng Kwoon, a biotechnologist, food scientist and pharmacology specialist at the faculty of medicine of the National University of Singapore.
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Most would naturally think of herbs such as garlic and ginger as functional food, but  really, chicken?
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Well, there have been quite a few studies that have shown that   chicken extract is good for health. Take the Japanese study that  showed that chicken essence may help fight diabetes. At the Osaka University's Institute for Protein Research in Japan, laboratory rats were induced with an insulin-resistance agent and then injected with chicken essence. However, the rats that were administered with the essence exhibited increased insulin production and lower blood sugar level.
Dr Sim . . . 'We've carried out research on beef and pork, but found no such  compounds.,
The biological compound responsible for the effects was            identified as L-Carnosine - a dipeptide (a combination of two amino acids, the building blocks of protein).
And that's not all there is to it.
A different study by Prof Dr Yasuo Matsumura from the Osaka University of Pharmaceutical Sciences, published in the Biological and Pharmaceutical Bulletin, showed that regular consumption of chicken essence actually keeps blood pressure down. The study was conducted over five weeks using three groups of rats: the first with   a normal diet and tap water, the second with a deoxycorticosterone acetate (DOCA) salt hypertensive diet, and the third with a DOCA salt hypertensive diet plus chicken essence.
Findings showed that long-term consumption of chicken essence prevented the development of hypertension induced by DOCA salt.  Increase in heart size, thickening of artery and kidney damage, all of which are well-known markers of hypertension-related diseases, were also significantly reduced by the consumption of chicken
essence. It also decreased heart, artery and kidney damage.
In a recent interview in Singapore, Prof Matsumura said he developed an interest in looking at traditional remedies as a supplementary diet to achieve better health after spending decades on drug-related research.
"No doubt there are many superior medicines to cure hypertension but the patients have to bear with the side effects too, including dry cough, allergy reactions and the increase in heartbeat or heart  rate,"he said.
"Moreover, the use of drugs usually sets in when a person has already developed an illness. One cannot subscribe to drugs under healthy conditions as a preventive measure."
And in Asian countries especially, it has always been a practice to consume traditional medicine (made from herbs) even when one is healthy.  "Many scientists nowadays are delving into nutritional approaches to
attain sustainable health," said the pharmaceutical sciences professor.
Now, according to Dr Sim, there is exciting new evidence that chicken extract can also do wonders for the heart. "Over the past two years, my colleagues and I at the Department of Pharmacology in Singapore have been researching chicken peptides. And we have found that these peptides, the active ingredient in chicken essence, have beneficial effects on the heart".
"We conducted out tests on animal models. And from these tests, we discovered that these biological compounds reduced the swelling of arteries in animals suffering from high blood pressure".
A peptide found only in chicken extracts has been found to minimise the scar on heart tissue following a heart attack and reduce clots in damaged blood vessels in animal test subjects.
"This compound also minimises the scar on heart tissue following a heart attack (which was simulated in the lab with the animal test subjects) and reduces the clot in the damaged blood vessels. It also prevents the reformation of the clot which might occur after an
angioplasty operation," says the doctor.
According to him, this peptide, a type of short protein, has only just been discovered and yet to be named scientifically.
As to whether the effects of this peptides, which is collagenous  (protein based) in nature, can be obtained by eating chicken meat: "it is only when this protein is hydrolysed, that it is broken down into the active agent, the peptides. Thus, taking chicken meat would not be as effective as boiling it for its extracts.
"At the moment, we're still in the midst of isolating and purifying the active factor which contributes to this beneficial effect," he elaborates.
"We've carried out research on beef and pork but found no such compounds. As to the other birds, we have not studied them yet," says Sim who will be announcing his findings at the Asia Pacific Symposium on Functional Food, which is to be held in KL on Nov  2.
After all that, the next time you're planning for chicken to be in the menu for dinner, think about chicken extract. They say chicken is good for the soul.  More appropriately, it should be "chicken is good for the heart".
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