Key reasons for exploiting plantderived compounds from coproducts

The key reasons that support the incorporation of specific plant-derived compounds in pharmaceutical and cosmetic products are summarised below.

18.2.1 Recovery of by-products from the food and food-processing industries: environmental benefits

The food and food-processing industry produces considerable amounts of wastes, residues, effluents and by-products which contain important amounts of potentially interesting compounds (Laufenberg et al, 2003). The disposal of these residues often creates an enormous environmental problem. Thus, a number of by-products and/or co-products of agricultural businesses are presently returned to the land as fertilisers or soil modifiers, fed to animals or fish as nutrients, burnt for energy or applied to value-added conversions. The finding of alternative uses for these natural residues, for instance in non-food areas such as pharmaceuticals and cosmetics with a high value added, might help to alleviate this situation. With the dramatic increase in biotechnological activity comes a concomitant responsibility to increase the capacity and sophistication of waste management systems.

18.2.2 Preference for natural products versus synthetic compounds: driving force for food, cosmetics and pharmacological fields

Growing apprehensiveness about the safety of synthetic commercial antioxidants has prompted great efforts to screen active and stable antioxidants obtained from natural sources (Peschel et al, 2006). Until now, most attention has been paid to oral administration of natural radical scavengers as food supplements. However, protection from hazardous species is not only of nutritional relevance. Neither are oxidation reactions an exclusive concern of the food industry. In fact, the customer's awareness of 'non-chemical' ingredients in health products has also to be faced by the cosmetic and pharmaceutical industry. These three sectors are drawn together promoting products named functional foods, food supplements, nutraceuticals and/or cosmeceuticals (Schieber et al., 2001).

18.2.3 Economic aspects of the recovery of highly valued compounds

The development of new co-products derived from inherently low-value (or poorly characterised) raw materials might be economically beneficial for the agro-food industry. However, many different problems need to be overcome in order to assure the success of these novel products in the market. For example, the industry needs to convince investors of the potential for financial gain from investing in the production of plant-based cosmetics and pharmaceuticals. Furthermore, it will need to carefully market new products so as to capture the interest of consumers, and, perhaps most importantly, to convince them of the benefits.

18.2.4 Biotechnological advances in the extraction processes

Currently, many extraction procedures for plant phytochemicals involve the use of organic solvents. With increasingly restrictive legislation, it is imperative that safe and efficient extraction processes are developed that guarantee an appropriately pure plant extract or plant-derived compound. Therefore, the utilisation of relatively new and safe extraction techniques such as supercritical fluid extraction (SCFE) might help to solve this problem. Furthermore, the advantages of using CO2 as the extraction agent - being low cost, non-toxic, non-flammable and non-corrosive - make it the perfect solvent for different natural products such as phenolics and vegetable oils.

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