New Insights into Fermented Cereal Foods as Solutions for Obesity and Related Metabolic Diseases


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Research Context

Fermented foods are enjoyed worldwide and have been a traditional part of many countries' diets. Koreans have consumed fermented foods for at least 5,000 years, enriching their diet with nutritious options. Popular fermented dishes in Korean culture include kimchi, jeotgal, jang, and vinegar. Jeungpyun, a traditional Korean rice cake, is made sour with barley flour and brown rice. Furthermore, advancements in fermentation technology have enhanced the quality of these foods, facilitating global export.

Fermented foods from Korean cuisine

Fermented foods from Korean cuisine, along with probiotic cereal-based beverages, offer a variety of health benefits. These include:

  • Improved immune system
  • Reduced cholesterol and lipids
  • Minimized side effects of antibiotics
  • Decreased lactose intolerance
  • Lowered risk of obesity and related metabolic diseases

Cereal grains are a crucial source of nutritious food globally. The market now offers a diverse range of convenient meal replacement products, such as porridges, cereal bars, and both liquid and powdered grains. Brown rice, rich in antioxidants, minerals, and other healthy compounds, is recommended by dietary guidelines in many countries for its potential to reduce the risks of cardiovascular disease, obesity, and type 2 diabetes. Bioactive substances in brown rice, such as GABA, dietary fiber, magnesium, free amino acids, potassium, zinc, inositol, tocotrienols, and ferulic acid, are enhanced by bifunctional materials.

Despite the preference for white rice in most rice-eating countries, due to its sticky, rough texture after processing, brown rice has been limited in use across various cultures. However, with growing awareness of health benefits, some in Asia are now turning to colored or pigmented rice variants, including black, brown, purple-black, and red and reddish-brown rice. These pigmented rice types are whole grains that have been naturally colored, offering more nutritional value than white rice, which remains a major calorie source in Asian and African diets but is less nutritious.

Cereals, capable of fostering the growth of probiotic bacteria and resisting bile, are an excellent milk alternative. Brown rice is often used in fermentation with bacteria such as Lactobacillus, Streptococcus, Pediococcus, Bacillus, and Leuconostoc to inhibit harmful bacterial growth and enhance the food's flavor, aroma, and texture.

The outlines of the current research findings

In our previous research, P. acidilactici MNL5 (KCTC15156BP) was shown to deconjugate bile through bile salt hydrolase (BSH) production, demonstrating cholesterol-lowering potential. In vivo studies with Caenorhabditis elegans (C. elegans) also confirmed the strain's anti-obesity efficacy (DOI: 10.3390/ijms23031276). Subsequent fermentation research highlighted its superior efficiency and the enhancement of food materials' functionality (DOI: 10.1016/j.foodchem.2022.134710; DOI: 10.3390/life13020374). Currently, we are integrating brown rice materials with a synergistic blend of probiotics, prebiotics (polyphenols), and enhancers to combat obesity. This study evaluated nine brown rice varieties fermented with P. acidilactici MNL5 to augment bioactive metabolites and assess their effectiveness. Among these, FBR-1741 exhibited the most significant pancreatic lipase inhibitory and antioxidant activities. Comparative analysis of the fermented brown rice varieties through untargeted metabolomics-based network pharmacology identified active metabolites targeting obesity. Additionally, in vivo supplementation of the C. elegans obesity-induced model with FBR-1741 and ferulic acid extended lifespan, reduced triglycerides, and suppressed the expression of genes associated with fat. These findings suggest the potential of FBR-1741 as a functional food ingredient for obesity management.

A Retrospective and Prospective Analysis

The research team from the Department of Food Science and Biotechnology at Kangwon National University, supervised by Professor Deog-Hwan Oh, has concentrated on developing value-added functional bioactive materials. Their areas of interest include the development of treatments for obesity, hypertension, diabetes, and neurodegenerative diseases (such as Alzheimer's). Additionally, the team has worked on bioconverting materials derived from cereals (DOI: 10.1016/j.jff.2023.105666), pulses (DOI: 10.12938/bmfh.2020-001), and hemp (DOI: 10.1016/j.fochx.2024.101233). These efforts aim to improve brain function and reduce stress.

Our achievements are primarily due to advances in bioconversion technologies, including enzymatic and fermentation processes, which are effective in reducing liver fat associated with fat metabolism, lowering cholesterol levels, and preventing hypertension related to obesity and blood circulation issues. Our laboratory aims to develop a superior probiotic consortium—a combination of probiotics, prebiotics, and postbiotics—designed to modulate the gut microbiota. This consortium is intended for broad application in bioconversion technology, targeting specific functional activities such as anti-obesity, anti-diabetic, anti-hypertensive, and metabolic syndrome management. To identify, isolate, purify, and characterize these materials, we have conducted molecular biology and biochemistry research. The goal of our study is to create a specialized super biotic formula and apply it within optimized bioconversion technology. This approach aims to amplify the production of selective bioactive compounds for targeted functional activities, employing a range of methods for evaluating bioactive functional materials. These methods include in vitro (laboratory analysis), in vivo (using Caenorhabditis elegans and mouse models), in silico (computational docking mechanisms, metagenomics, and metabolomics), and ex vivo (cell line studies) as convenient screening methodologies.

Future Direction of the Lab

Building on our legacy of pioneering research in fermented foods and their health benefits, our lab, under the leadership of Professor Deog-Hwan Oh ( at Kangwon National University, is poised to set new benchmarks in the field of food science and biotechnology. Leveraging our profound insights into the nutritional advantages of Korean fermented foods and the potent bioactivity of cereal grains like brown rice, we've made significant strides in understanding how these foods contribute to improving immune functions, reducing cholesterol, and combating obesity.

As we look ahead, our lab is dedicated to expanding the boundaries of bioconversion technologies and probiotic research. Our goal is to develop a superior probiotic consortium that not only enhances the gut microbiota but also targets a range of metabolic syndromes including obesity, diabetes, and hypertension. Through a multidisciplinary approach that includes molecular biology, biochemistry, and cutting-edge computational methods, we aim to isolate and characterize novel bioactive materials. These efforts are geared towards creating a specialized super biotic formula that can be integrated into a variety of functional foods and supplements. This ambitious endeavor promises to revolutionize the way we think about food and its impact on health, offering new, natural solutions for managing complex health issues.



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Food Science
Life Sciences > Biological Sciences > Food Science
Food Microbiology
Life Sciences > Biological Sciences > Food Science > Food Microbiology
Food Chemistry
Life Sciences > Biological Sciences > Food Science > Food Chemistry

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