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Eating desert locust meat could treat heart disease


By Mary Mwendwa

Eating desert locust could prevent heart disease, icipe’s study on Insects for Food and Feed research theme has revealed. According to Prof. Baldwyn Torto, icipe scientist,” we found that, as is the case in other insects, cholesterol is the major tissue sterol in desert locusts. However, we observed that after the desert locust has fed on a vegetative diet, most of the common phytosterols or compounds  that lower blood cholesterol levels,   are amplified and new ones are also produced in its tissues. In turn, this leads to a high phytosterol content, which suggests that eating desert locusts could reduce cholesterol levels.”

The Study is published in PLOS One journal.

He further explains, “Sterols occur naturally in plants, animals and fungi. The sterols from plants are called phytosterols and those from animals are known as zoosterol’s. Cholesterolis the most familiar type of animal sterol. Phytosterols and cholesterol have a common target of getting absorbed in the intestines. However, phytosterols have been shown to have a competitive advantage, as they are able to block the absorption of cholesterol. Although vegetables are generally the richest sources of phytosterols, insects have the potential to supply these useful compounds to people.

“Apart from cardiovascular protective effects, the researchers also found the desert locust to have a wealth of other nutrients, including proteins, fatty acids and minerals, which are beneficial for anti-inflammatory, anticancer and also have immune regulatory effects. As such, the desert locust is an excellent source of dietary components for both humans and animals,” Prof. Torto notes.

 The findings by icipe are redeeming for the desert locust, which is probably more reputed for its alarming threat to food security, for instance, through outbreaks in the Sahel region of Africa, which have been known to destroy land and crops, leaving hunger and poverty in their wake.

“We hope that our findings will refocus the research on the desert locust in a new emerging dimension; its potential as a component in food and nutritional security in Africa. Despite its negative image, the desert locust is already consumed in many regions in Africa and Asia. As icipe has proven over the years, the desert locust is extremely easy to rear, meaning that it could either be domesticated on a small-scale, or even produced through commercial ventures”, concludes  Prof. Torto.

The World Health Organisation states that 60 per of the global burden of heart disease now lies in developing nations. Cardiovascular diseases claim 17.3 million deaths every year and account for one in ten deaths in Africa. Kenya lacks accurate statistics of heart disease among its population, making it difficult to account for exact numbers of people affected. Reports indicate more than 74,000 incidents per year.

The four main non-communicable diseases globally are cardiovascular diseases, cancers, diabetes and chronic lung diseases according to WHO. The burden of these diseases is rising disproportionately among lower income countries and populations. In 2012, nearly three quarters of non-communicable disease deaths occurred in low- and middle-income countries with about 48% of deaths occurring before the age of 70 in these countries.

 The leading causes of NCD deaths in 2012 were cardiovascular diseases which accounted for 46% of all NCD deaths, cancers (8.2 million, or 22% of all NCD deaths), and respiratory diseases, including asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease accounting for 4million deaths with diabetes causing another 1.5 million deaths.

 According to Dr.Nicholas Muraguri, Director of Medical Services, Ministry of Health, many Kenyans are not on any medical insurance scheme. This makes it difficult for them to access affordable and quality health care services in facilities.

”The NHIF scheme needs to be more vibrant to enroll more Kenyans so that diseases that are non –communicable like heart diseases, cancer and diabetes can be detected on time and managed well. Most of these diseases have been long perceived to be for the rich but now we have low income earners affected too. As a ministry we are working towards an efficient health system where the devolved functions like health have to be very efficient in service delivery,” he notes.

   Similarly, population growth, urbanization, climate change, diminishing land and water resources, over- and under-nutrition, and persistent poverty, have aggravated food insecurity, especially in developing countries. Against this background, the use of insects as alternative sources of food for human consumption and feed for livestock has captured the imagination of the global research and donor community.

   Insects satisfy three important requirements: they are an important source of protein and other nutrients; their use as food has ecological advantages over conventional meat and, in the long run, economic benefits for mass production as animal feed and human food, and they are also a rich source of drugs for modern medicine.

  The study was jointly done by by icipe, Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology and United States Department of Agriculture/Agricultural Research Service