Finalists revealed: SafePreg

Are we aware of all the substances we put in our bodies when we consume everyday, familiar food products? Finns eat lots of sweet and salty liquorice and consider it a healthy option compared to other sweets. National nutritional recommendations do suggest to keep daily liquorice intake low during pregnancy, mainly because it may increase the pregnant mother’s blood pressure and thereby contribute to heightened risk of preterm delivery.

However, new studies show that a substance in liquorice called glycyrrhizin can also harm the unborn child’s future developmentthrough other mechanisms. Helsinki Challenge finalist team SafePreg were the first to show these negative effects of glycyrrhizin on an unborn baby. Now they want to spread this information to the world as well as help pregnant mothers to avoid all other harmful substances in food products.

“Food products that contain glycyrrhizin form a completely unnecessary threat to the development of an unborn baby”, says team leader Katri Räikkönen. What happens to us in the womb shapes our future development, she emphasizes.

Protecting unborn babies from harmful substances

Over four hundred products in any grocery store in Finland contain glycyrrhizin, including some herbal teas, ice creams, biscuits, sweetened syrups and candies, so unintended daily intake can be high. Yet glycyrrhizin is merely one of several harmful substances on store shelves.

Team SafePreg has come up with an idea for a barcode reading application for smartphones. The app tells you which products contain harmful substances and their quantities, why they are harmful and even suggests safer products as alternative options.

”So far, the only tools available don’t tell pregnant mothers about the specific harmful products”, Räikkönen says. With SafePreg, any parent will be able to walk into a grocery store and be sure that the food they buy safe for their baby.

TEAM: Team leader academy professor Katri Räikkönen, professor Johan Eriksson (UH), professor Timo Strandberg (UH and University of Oulu), professor Jonathan R Seckl (University of Edinburgh), professor Rebecca M Reynolds (University of Edinburgh), academy research fellow Eero Kajantie (UH and THL), research manager Jaana Lindström (THL), doctoral student Sara Sammallahti (UH), research nurse Hanna Oksa (Folkhälsan), head of product development Tuomo Talvitie (Rastor).