Superfoods – Ongoing Research into Health Benefits

Pharmacy professor studies produce to benefit human health

10/03/08 – Navindra P. Seeram, an assistant professor in the University of Rhode Island’s pharmaceutical program, has been profoundly involved in his research of medicinal plants.

“Superfoods Help Heart Health: Cardiovascular Health,,” an article published in National Outlook in April of 2008, states, “a superfood is one that is rich in nutrients.” Such foods include, yet are not limited to, “exotic foods such as pomegranate, acai, goji, mangosteen, spirulina, blueberries, and cranberries.”

The online outline of the 2009 Berry Health Symposium, which will be held from June 22-23 in Monterey, Calif., further explains that “berries are increasingly viewed as having a profound impact against the diseases of aging, including cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes and age related mental decline.”

Seeram will have the honor of being the chair for the session regarding Berry Compositional Chemistry & Biological/Health Effects.

At the convention held in Oregon in 2007, Seeram presented Berry Fruits for Cancer Prevention: Current Status & Future Prospects. The Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry states the intention of the 2007 symposium was to reinforce the positive effects eating berries can have in the prevention of diseases, examine the compositional elements and biochemical activities of berries and their relationship to a great number of observed health benefits.

“Because of [the] immobility [of these medicinal plants, they] have evolved over time to make vital nutrients and phytochemicals as a way to protect themselves,” Seeram said. “The fruits have some basic added bonuses, a triple whammy…of vitamins, folate, and good fiber. You’re getting this big whack of antioxidants and anti-inflammatory phytochemicals that can prevent the onset of diseases medicated by inflammation such as heart disease and cancer.”

According to the McGraw Hill Online Learning Center, a phytochemical is “a naturally occurring substance found in plant foods that may help prevent and treat chronic diseases like cancer and heart disease.”

Seeram has more than 15 years of experience researching phytochemicals.

The Clinical Pharmacognosy Series tells readers that Seeram is currently “researching in vitro and in vivo evolution of foods and dietary supplements for the prevention and treatment of chronic illnesses, such as cancer, cardiovascular and neurodegenerative diseases.” As stated by the Phytochemical Glossary for Herbalists, “Pharmacognosy is the study of medicinal plants and their extracts, constituents, and phytochemistry.”

His most recent book, “Pomegranates: Ancient Roots to Modern Medicine,” was published in 2006. The online synopsis of the book, found at, says this book “offers an exploration of the biochemistry, health effects, and cultivation of the pomegranate that is as authoritative as it is unparalleled. defines polyphenol as “a substance with antioxidant activity that is found in many plants and gives some flowers, fruits, and vegetables their color.”

At URI, Seeram has overseen research projects such as that of URI student Caroline Killian. Killian and others conducted research pertaining to the effects Jamun Berries have on human breast cancer cells. The Rhode Island chapter of the Idea Network of Biomedical Research Excellence (INBRE) annually sponsors the research of students interested in research fields around Rhode Island.

Beside Fogarty Hall is the Heber Youngken medicinal garden that is managed by both faculty and students. It is a great learning resource and each of the 40-65 plants located in it is labeled with a nametag and a short description of its medicinal properties.

“It was founded by Heber Youngken,” Seeram said. “[He] eventually recruited a small group of professors, including Professor Dave Rowley and Professor Yuzuru Shimizu, a Japanese professor who studies Red Tide Toxins.”

As a side note, his BPS 533 Medicinal Plants class syllabus states “pharmacies experienced an increase of 45 percent in sales of herbal supplements in the 1900s and it is estimated that almost 19 percent of persons using prescription medications also use herbal products.”

Before coming to URI this past January, Seeram was the assistant director at the UCLA Center for Human Nutrition. He attended the University of the West Indies for his doctorate in natural product chemistry and conducted postdoctoral research on potential health benefits of tart berries at Michigan State University He is the leading pomegranate researcher and has published more than 63 peer-reviewed scientific articles. Overall, Seeram said he is excited to be here and hopes to inspire students as he continues his research.

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