With unparalleled benefits in beauty and health, Proteoglycan was valued more than a diamond at the time of its discovery. But it was impossible to market due to the immense cost of 30 million yen / gram (approx. 300,000 USD / gram) to extract.
It was like, people knew where the gold was, but no one knew how to mine it — until a passionate Japanese researcher sat down in an izakaya restaurant in Aomori...
Read on to find out how this miracle ingredient came to life.
Proteoglycan is a type of glycoprotein. Like collagen and hyaluronic acid, it naturally exists in the skin and cartilage in all animals including humans. Think of it as a filler substance between cells to keep them in place. One of the many benefits of Proteoglycan is its ability to absorb water — lots of it.
Proteoglycan Beauty Advisor: Shizuko Hayashi
“There's never been an ingredient like it,” says Shizuko Hayashi. Born in Aomori, Hayashi worked as the Chief of Sales and Manufacturing in a renowned French beauty brand. She is currently the beauty advisor of the Proteoglycan project to support her hometown.
Japan’s Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare defines the efficacy of skin cosmetics with 16 criteria. Proteoglycan single-handedly checks nearly all of them. That means persistent research has successfully proven the benefits of Proteoglycan in multiple aspects.
Hayashi believes, “The most important element in beauty is hydration. It’s especially important for preventing wrinkles.” Hyaluronic acid is a popular ingredient for hydration, but it’s been validated that Proteoglycan has more water retention power than Hyaluronic Acid. Hayashi is looking forward to future studies of Proteoglycan’s effectiveness in hair and the oral health field.
There are also studies showing that Proteoglycan promotes the production of collagen and hyaluronic acid. Not only does it promote hydration when applied topically, but Proteoglycan may also improve wrinkles and skin firmness by oral intake. Other studies show signs of Proteoglycan functioning similar to the “cell-revitalizing” Epidermal Growth Factor (EGF). It is believed that Proteoglycan may promote the renewal of skin cells and cartilage.
At the time of its discovery, Proteoglycan was extracted from bovine cartilage. But, this required the usage of toxic chemicals and a significant amount of labor and cost. Furthermore, Mad Cow Disease (BSE) was a major concern at the time. A safe and cost-efficient mass extraction of Proteoglycan was thought impossible.
Hirosaki University located in Aomori, Japan has a long history in the research of glycoprotein. They already knew that Proteoglycan can be found in the nasal cartilage of a salmon. But the challenge was how to extract it in a safe and cost-efficient manner. No one seemed to be able to figure it out — until epiphany struck in an izakaya.
Professor Keiichi Takagaki was a lead researcher of Proteoglycan at Hirosaki University. One day, after years of persistent research, he sat down at an izakaya and took a bite of an appetizing local dish. A moment later, he exclaimed “This is it!”
What he was eating is called, Hizu Namasu a traditional dish from Aomori. It's made by pickling the salmon head (nasal cartilage) in vinegar to make it soft. He hypothesized that vinegar loosened the salmon's cartilage tissue, melting out the Proteoglycan inside. Thus, vinegar was the key to a safe and cost-efficient extraction. It was a breakthrough moment.
Traditional Aomori dish: Hizu Namasu
“It wouldn’t be possible anywhere else in the world,” says Chief Masato Yonezuka of Kakuhiro Corporation’s Proteoglycan Research Institute. It was Aomori's culinary culture that led to this miracle discovery.
Kakuhiro Corporation’s Proteoglycan Research Institute:
Chief Masato Yonezuka
Hirosaki University partnered with Kakuhiro Corporation, the expert with the necessary facilities. Kakuhiro Corporation has produced local Aomori products since the Meiji Era (1883). Proteoglycan has been one of their research topics for years.
At the time, some expressed doubts about bringing Proteoglycan to the mass market. It was a completely new field of business with no guarantee for profitability.
But “With a world of possibilities lying ahead, I wasn’t going to give up.” says Chief Yonezuka. Researchers would tell him “It’s the most fascinating ingredient ever.” Requests to build facilities flew in from around the world.
Growth speed was a crucial factor for success. To achieve this, Kakuhiro Corporation decided to partner with Ichimaru Pharcos, one of the world’s top ingredient manufacturers.
Proteoglycan exhibited by Ichimaru Pharcos wins
the NEXTY Award in the U.S. for Best New Ingredient.
As the dream team came together, the Proteoglycan project was on its way to success. The Japanese government, Aomori’s regional administration and various research institutions all supported the expansion of the Proteoglycan industry.
This collaborative project won many awards, like the Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Award and the Minister of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Award. In 2017, Proteoglycan won the prestigious NEXTY Award for Best New Ingredient at the Natural Products Expo West, attracting worldwide attention.
Hirosaki University’s lead researcher in Proteoglycan:
Professor Akio Nakane
Professor Takagaki, unfortunately, passed away at the young age of 56, but his spirit still lives. New research on Proteoglycan continues to this day.
“It is rare to be able to research one ingredient for this long,” says Professor Akio Nakane who leads the research on Proteoglycan today. Normally, you research one area of an ingredient and you’re finished. But with Proteoglycan, discoveries keep popping up. There seems to be no end to this fascinating ingredient.
He was immediately surprised when he began his research on Proteoglycan’s effect on immunity. Glucose related ingredients have the power to raise immunity. At first, he expected the same for Proteoglycan but, the opposite was true. Proteoglycan suppressed immunity. This, in fact, helped normalize excess immunity and decreased inflammation.
In animal studies, Proteoglycan has proven to be effective in improving symptoms of Inflammatory Bowel Disease, Arthritis, Obesity and seasonal allergies which are all caused by inflammation. Furthermore, animal studies show that Proteoglycan is effective for chronic diseases such as Diabetes, Multiple Sclerosis and Osteoporosis. Medical usage of Proteoglycan is highly anticipated for these diseases.
Professor Nakane believes, “From now on, healthy lifespan would be a key factor. That means it’s important to maintain health without the need to depend on daily medical care.” Many supplements enter the market and are quick to disappear. The lack of scientific proof leads to consumer distrust. But, the effectiveness of Proteoglycan is already proven. It’s now the matter of communicating the science behind it so consumers feel ensured to use it. With an aging population and medical expenses on the rise, the discovery of Proteoglycan has been a significant advancement in today’s society.
Researchers look forward to new findings of Proteoglycan.
Aomori PG Certification ensures high quality Proteoglycan.
After nearly 40 years of persistent research, there are currently over 200 types of Proteoglycan products. Its awareness and market share is rising year over year. Research is advancing globally. That means, more companies with new products will emerge worldwide.
To protect the consumer from unreliable products, Aomori launched a certification program called “Aomori PG”. Products with this certification are only allowed to use the extraction method invented by Hirosaki University. It also has standards for the amount of Proteoglycan that should be formulated in the product.
Consumers can be ensured that they’re getting quality Proteoglycan with Aomori PG certification.
Proteoglycan has come far in the world of beauty, health and medicine. It continues to show new possibilities to this day. In retrospect, it may be regarded as one of the greatest discoveries in history.
A traditional Japanese dish, technology, persistence and passion all came together in a small izakaya. Some call it a miracle, but perhaps it was an inevitable event for the advancement of mankind.
Advanced research continues to show new possibilities of Proteoglycan.
© Aomori Prefectural Government