Trendy avocados could combat heart disease, cancer and diabetes – but the healthiest part is the stone that most people chuck away, according to new research.
The study shows that an extract found in avocado seeds dampens down inflammation – high levels of which are now known to be associated with most chronic illnesses.
These also include rheumatoid arthritis, asthma, gum disease and even dementia, say scientists.
The US team developed the extract over the last decade as a food colourant from avocado seeds – which currently go to waste.
Lab experiments showed it exhibited anti-inflammatory properties – offering hope of turning it into functional foods or drugs.
Lead author Professor Joshua Lambert said the study provides evidence there are bioactive compounds in avocado seeds that potentially boost health.
He said: “The level of activity that we see from the extract is very good. We saw inhibitory activity at concentrations in the low microgram-per-milliliter range, which is an acceptable amount of activity to justify further studies.”
Cancer, cardiovascular diseases, arthritis, colitis and many more serious conditions are linked to chronic inflammation, explained Prof Lambert.
The findings, published in the journal Advances In Food Technology and Nutritional Sciences, are especially encouraging because avocado seeds are dumped in landfill.
It may be the compounds responsible for the extract’s vibrant orange colour block chemicals that fuel inflammation.
Prof Lambert and colleagues tested the extract on cultured cells and enzymes important in immune response and inflammatory diseases.
A class of immune cells called macrophages were grown in petri dishes and activated with a pro-inflammatory molecule in the presence or absence of the avocado seed extract.
The researchers measured the production of important pro-inflammatory mediators and signaling pathways in the cells after treatment with the extract.
Prof Lambert, co director of Penn State University’s Centre for Plant and Mushroom Foods for Health in the US, said: “The next step, before we can draw further conclusions about the anti-inflammatory activity of this avocado seed extract, will be to design animal model studies.
“For example, we can look at a mouse model of ulcerative colitis where we formulate the avocado seed extract into the mice diet and look at whether it is able to reduce inflammation.”
He added: “If we can return value to avocado growers or avocado processors, that would be a benefit.
“And if we can reduce the amount of this material being dumped in landfills, that would be a good thing, given the huge amount of avocados that are consumed.
“This is encouraging because there is a market for other high-value sources of bioactive compounds we have tested in my lab, such as cocoa and green tea – whereas avocado seeds are essentially considered to be garbage.”
The avocado is a rather unique fruit known to be loaded with nutrients. It is high in healthy fats. Numerous studies show it has powerful health benefits.
The yellow-green flesh inside the fruit is eaten, but the skin and seed are discarded.
The researchers have filed a patent application for the use of the extract as a food colour additive.
In 2016, the researchers and two partners founded a company, Persea Naturals, to develop the extract for this application.
The identification of potential beneficial biological activity, if it is borne out in subsequent studies, may add value to the extract and provide additional avenues for development.