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Promising New Research with Blackberries and Oral Health

Eastern Kentucky has long been the butt of many a joke about oral health. Many residents face a number of barriers to receiving quality dental care, including lack of insurance, lack of access, and poor diet (the dreaded “Mountain Dew Mouth”). Now a Central Kentucky company is hoping to change that with a series of exciting new studies, all connected to the humble blackberry.

Four Tigers, LLC was formed in 2002, a partnership between Paige Shumate Short and Dr. Russell Mumper. Short had taken over her parents’ blackberry farm and Mumper was a Professor of Pharmaceutical Sciences at the University of Kentucky. Although he has since relocated to the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, where he serves as Vice Dean and is the John A. McNeill Distinguished Professor in the Division of Molecular Pharmaceutics, he remains an important part of Four Tigers, continuing as the company’s President and Chief Scientific Officer. Inspiration came when, after hearing about possible beneficial antioxidants in black raspberries, Short felt sure that similar or greater benefits might be found in the blackberry.

A 2006 study in Clinical Nutrition found that blackberries have the highest antioxidant content per serving of any berry, even higher than that of blueberries. What’s more, the antioxidants in blackberries are a specific type. The berries get their intensely dark color from polyphenol antioxidants. Research studies have found that these polyphenols have anti-inflammatory, anti-viral, and anti-microbial properties, as well as offering UV protection. Further research at Four Tigers has even indicated anti-cancer properties. (Expect to read more about those developments in Kentucky Doc later this year.)

Dr. Mumper and Dr. Craig Miller of the University of Kentucky College of Dentistry have spent several years researching how the anti-microbial and anti-viral benefits of these polyphenols might translate to better oral care. In the September, 2011 issue of Oral Surgery, Oral Medicine, Oral Pathology, Oral Radiology (OOOOE) they reported their findings in a study exploring the effects of blackberry extract (BBE) on the Herpes Simplex Virus. An application of BBE was found to have virucidal effects, leading the study authors to conclude that a topical treatment containing the extract might prove highly effective in treating oral lesions associated with HSV.

A second study was published in the February, 2013 issue of the Journal of Periodontal Research, this time looking at how the extract might work against various causes of oral disease. Blackberry extract significantly reduced the metabolic activity of three key oral bacteria: Porphyromonas gingivalis and Fusobacterium nucleatum (both known to cause periodontal disease) by 40 percent, and Streptococcus Mutans (responsible for dental caries) by 30 percent. To date, the most effective method of preventing certain oral bacteria from causing disease has been the use of mouthwashes containing chlorhexidine. However, long-term use can lead to oral staining and increased tartar build up. BBE offers a potential alternative that is safe for long-term use.

In June, 2013, Four Tigers, LLC began selling its BerryCare Toothpaste Gum through regional Kroger supermarkets. One piece of the gum contains as much polyphenol as one cup of blackberries and may help to prevent tooth decay. But Four Tigers is determined to go further. The company recently submitted its first application to the FDA for an Investigational New Drug and received approval to proceed. Their research team is working with the University of Kentucky to develop a stronger oral product containing BBE and the product will be tested in parts of Eastern Kentucky where dental care is lacking. If approved, blackberry extract will be only the second botanical to be approved by the FDA for proven medicinal purposes (the first being green tea).

This is just one branch of the research taking place at Four Tigers, but the potential uses of BBE are looking promising and we will be sure to report back as new studies emerge.

For more information about Four Tigers, LLC products and research, visit http://www.four-tigers.com.

By Fiona Young-Brown, Editor, Kentucky Doc Magazine

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