(NaturalNews) Traditional food and medicinal herbs from India have powerful antioxidant properties, and may provide alternatives to synthetic preservatives, according to as study conducted by researchers at the Indian Institute of Technology Guwahati and published in the journal Food Research International.
"As plants produce significant amount of antioxidants to prevent the oxidative stress caused by photons and oxygen, they represent a potential source of new compounds with antioxidant activity," lead author Shahin Sharif Ali said.
Researchers examined the phytochemicals found in 24 different Indian plants and discovered a wide variety of substances with antioxidant properties. The types of antioxidant chemicals included alkaloids, ascorbic acid, flavonoids, phenolics and tannins. The antioxidant properties of these compounds have been confirmed through laboratory tests, but the researchers noted that further studies would be required to know how they interact inside the human body.
"The clinical efficacies of many plant preparations used are not yet validated," they wrote.
The herbs studied included Amaranthus paniculatus, Aerva lanata, Coccinia indica and Coriandrum sativum. The researchers say that these plants' long history of use in the Indian diet bodes well for their safety.
"Interestingly, a vast majority of these plants are also available in other parts of the world," Ali said. "Therefore, if a systematic investigation is initiated, the traditional medicinal systems practiced in India can offer promising leads for the discovery of potent antioxidants that can have therapeutic and dietary use globally."
Because oxidation is a major factor in the decomposition of food products, synthetic antioxidants such as butylhydroxyanisole (BHA) and butylhydroxytoluene (BHT) are commonly used as preservatives. But as consumers become increasingly wary of artificial ingredients, the food and beverage industries have stepped up the search for more natural alternatives. A 2003 report by Frost and Sullivan found that the market for synthetic antioxidants has been declining, while the market for natural antioxidants continues to grow. The global market for antioxidants is predicted to grow from its 2004 value of $55 million to $70 million by 2008.