Ada, Michigan — Harvesting nutrients from the highly saline waters of Australian lagoons may sound challenging enough, but the work done to preserve the concentration of beta carotene from those waters is equally as challenging.
Beta carotene is a carotenoid, a plant pigment that is responsible for the bright orange, red and yellow hues in many fruits and vegetables. They’re critical in helping plants absorb light energy to use in photosynthesis.
When used for supplementation, such as in Nutrilite’s Multi Carotene, the human body takes beta carotene and extracts just the right amount of vitamin A it needs, without taking too much.
Kevin Gellenbeck, a senior principal research scientist at Amway understands the specific needs of beta carotene and the challenges of its collection and use.
“Stability is a challenge with beta carotene,” Gellenbeck said. “The big thing with carotenoids is they’re lipophilic compounds so they’re soluble in oil but not in water, but living systems are water based.
“Somehow they’ve got to be packaged and moved around. Unless you take care of them, they break down pretty easily so you’ve have to be careful to ensure the material gets to the final destination at full potency.”
Beta Carotene is shipped from Australia to Amway’s Buena Park, California facility in tightly-sealed drums. Care is taken to protect it from light and oxygen. If a drum is only partially used in a batch, it undergoes a “nitrogen blanketing” process, where nitrogen gas is added to the top of the barrel in place of oxygen, thus limiting any reduction of potency.
“You have to take care of the compounds otherwise they’ll degrade rapidly,” Gellenbeck said. “When the material goes into a soft gel and goes into oil, the oil serves as a very good protectant. It protects from moisture and oxygen. You also need to protect it from light, because light will degrade the compounds as well.”
Special starches and various anti-oxidants are used to protect the carotenoids, in addition to packaging materials like dark bottles and foil.
“When the team here at Amway is coming up with an idea for packaging, they test it extensively. The test batches go into stability chambers mimicking certain conditions and the product gets tested over time to make sure that everything’s stable. It takes that whole group of people together to make sure the product maintains its peak potency for the long term.”
As an example of how the sun impacts beta carotene, Gellenbeck recalled an instance of working in the collection process and getting stains of the orange and pink algae on his white shirt.
“What we learned, if you wanted to clean it, you’d wash it, which took away all of the oil protection, then you’d hang it out in the sun. Within a day the shirt would be white again. If you put it in the right condition, it’s gone in a second. It just goes.”
That’s why it’s important to protect it at all stages of collection to use, Gellenbeck said.
It’s something Amway excels at.