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Beyond Nutrition: Discover the Health Benefits of Insects' Functional Substances

edible insects street food

Many of the insects used as food and feed have functional substances that make them attractive to the medical, pharmaceutical and cosmetic industries


Insects are not only a valuable source of nutrients.


But they also have many functional substances, which can provide numerous health benefits for humans and animals.


Some of the functional substances found in insects include:

  • Peptides

  • Minerals

  • Vitamins

  • Chitosan

  • Amino acids

  • Polysaccharides

  • Functional lipids

Also called bioactive compounds, these substances can have positive effects on the health of both animals and humans.


The benefits include antioxidant effects, immune system activity, regulation of blood glucose and lipids, regulation of intestinal flora, and inhibition of tumors, among many others.


In this new edition of Insect Academy’s newsletter we explore some of the positive health effects of various bioactive compounds found in edible insects.


Antioxidants


Biological oxidation is a reaction in which the body's cells use oxygen to convert nutrients into energy.


However, during this process, by-products called reactive oxygen species (ROS) can be generated, molecules that can damage DNA, proteins and cells, contributing to aging and various diseases, such as respiratory and heart problems.


Antioxidants are natural or artificial substances that can prevent or delay some of this damage.


silkworm pupae

Silkworm pupae offer multiple health benefits, including antioxidant, antibacterial and anti-inflammatory effects


Components with antioxidant properties have been discovered in certain insects, including peptides from the house cricket (Acheta domesticus), ethanol extracts from silkworm pupae (Bombyx mori), phenolic compounds from the mealworm (Tenebrio molitor), and substances like chitosan from the housefly larvae (Musca domestic).


A laboratory study showed that several species of crickets, grasshoppers and silkworms contained 2 times more antioxidant power than orange juice or olive oil.


Immune system activity


We talk about immune system activity to describe how certain compounds can protect the animal or human body against pathogens such as bacteria, viruses, parasites and fungi.


Recent studies have applied antimicrobial peptides, antibacterial proteins, lectins, chitosan and fats extracted from silkworm pupae, house flies, tussar silk moths (Antherea pernyi), and black ants (Polyrhachis dives) in the production of antiviral and antibacterial biological agents.


black soldier fly

In addition to its use for the revaluation of organic waste, the black soldier fly is a promising source of functional substances, such as peptides, chitosan and phenolic compounds


The black soldier fly (Hermetia illucens) is a source of eumelanin - a type of phenolic compound with antibacterial, antifungal and antioxidant properties - making it a potential food additive.


Prevention of obesity and diabetes


Diseases such as obesity and diabetes are related to blood glucose and lipid levels.


There are bioactive compounds in insects and their products, such as frass, with the capacity to regulate blood glucose, such as the banded cricket (Gryllodes sigillatus), the protein of the lesser mealworm (Alphitobius diaperinus) and the aqueous extract of house fly larva can inhibit.


Linoleic acid and minerals such as manganese, zinc and calcium, present in significant quantities in various insects, are also related to the regulation of blood glucose.


roasted crickets

A recent study showed that fermented cricket powder acts as a hair growth-promoting agent


Given that diabetes can develop from obesity, it is noteworthy that certain substances in insects can regulate blood lipid levels.


This is the case with certain peptides and alkaloids from the silkworm pupa, which have been found to reduce the accumulation of lipids in human blood.


Other effects


There are other applications of insect functional substances for human and animal health.


A polysaccharide present in two-spotted cricket (Gryllus bimaculatus) has anti-inflammatory effects comparable to that of anti-inflammatory drugs.


Chitin is a substance that provides structure and protection to insects, and can be used to reduce blood pressure and promote intestinal health.


Additionally, the potential of mealworm fat to reduce skin wrinkles has been studied.

A recent study has found that fermented cricket powder can promote hair growth.


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Closing thoughts


From fighting oxidative stress with antioxidants to strengthening immune defenses and controlling chronic diseases such as obesity and diabetes, insects are emerging not only as a sustainable food but as a source of medicinal, pharmaceutical, and cosmetic properties.


Yet, it is important to approach this topic with careful consideration of the safety aspects, to prevent risks such as those caused by allergens, heavy metals, mycotoxins, and microorganisms that can be present in some insects.


Also, many of the effects of these substances have been studied in laboratories, so more research is necessary to better understand their scope in the areas of human and animal health.


To follow the latest trends in insects as food, feed, and other applications, follow Insect Academy on LinkedIn.


👋 See you in the next edition!



References

Beyond the protein concept: health aspects of using edible insects on animals: https://doi.org/10.3920/JIFF2020.0077


Beyond Human Nutrition of Edible Insects: Health Benefits and Safety Aspects: https://doi.org/10.3390/insects13111007


Edible Insects an Alternative Nutritional Source of Bioactive Compounds: A Review: https://doi.org/10.3390/molecules28020699


Nutritional Composition, Health Benefits, and Application Value of Edible Insects: A Review: https://doi.org/10.3390/foods11243961


The exploration and utilization of functional substances in edible insects: a review: https://doi.org/10.1186/s43014-022-00090-4

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