Discover the Powerful Potential of Polyphenols

Reducing chronic inflammation and preventing disease takes a multipronged approach that usually involves consuming anti-inflammatory foods and supplements, such as omega-3 essential fatty acids. Omega-3s are particularly important because your body can’t make them on its own, so you need to get them from your diet.

Such is the case with another family of compounds called polyphenols. You can find polyphenols in many different types of fruits and vegetables, and in certain beverages such as tea, coffee, and red wine. And chocoholics can rejoice—it’s even in cocoa!

Polyphenols are a huge group of compounds made by plants to protect themselves, especially during periods of stress. When we eat plants and fruits that are rich in these substances, polyphenols act like natural drugs to protect us. Specifically, they activate insulin signaling, neuroprotective and anti-inflammatory biochemical pathways that have the potential to prevent a wide range of human diseases.

As you may know, an imbalance in these critical pathways is a root cause of countless debilitating health problems, including heart disease, cancer, Alzheimer’s, and diabetes, to name just a few. Additionally—and very importantly—these natural compounds activate genes known as vitagenes, which regulate homeostasis mechanisms that are directly related to healthy aging and lifespan.

While the scientific research on polyphenols is still relatively early, it is extremely interesting and shows great potential to benefit human health. Let me give you a brief overview of the exciting findings in a few important areas.

Heart Disease, Blood Pressure, and More

Research shows that polyphenols can help cut cardiovascular and heart attack risk, improve blood lipid profiles, and lower blood pressure.

One meta-analysis that looked at 17 studies found that incidence of heart attack decreased by 11 percent with the consumption of three cups of polyphenol-rich tea per day.

Another meta-analysis examined cocoa’s effects on blood pressure. Cocoa is high in a type of polyphenol called flavanols, which exert positive effects on the dilation of blood vessels. The researchers looked at 20 studies, with a total of 856 participants. Their analysis revealed a “statistically significant [2-3 mmHg] blood pressure reducing effect of flavanol-rich cocoa products compared with control in short-term trials of 2-18 weeks duration.”

Yet another benefit of polyphenol intake is improved cholesterol profiles. Researchers evaluated the effects of polyphenol-rich chokeberry juice on blood pressure and lipids in 23 participants with untreated hypertension. Not only did the juice drinkers experience decreased blood pressure, but also significant reductions in triglyceride levels and total and low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol.

Reduce Cancer Risk

A recent study examined the role of polyphenols in tempering the inflammatory pathways that lead to cancer. The researchers wrote, “There is good epidemiological evidence of a reduction in colorectal cancer risk from case-control and cohort studies assessing polyphenol intake….dietary change is safe and feasible, emphasizing the need for further investigation of polyphenols and colorectal cancer risk.”

Another study using rats with breast cancer showed that polyphenols in fruit peels displayed a “substantial tumor-suppressive effect.”

Obviously more research needs to be conducted in this realm, but so far, results look encouraging.

Extension of Life Span

Animal studies (some including mammals) demonstrate that certain polyphenols may extend lifespan and protect against the deterioration of biological functions associated with several age-related diseases.

This is what I call health span, as opposed to life span. It’s important to live longer, but who wants to live longer if they cannot live vigorous, healthy lives?

Studying the effects of compounds such as polyphenols on aging in humans is very challenging because we live so long. Imagine how long it would to take to complete a randomized, double-blinded, placebo-controlled trial to determine whether certain polyphenols make you live longer. The researcher would be dead before the trial was completed! That’s why the trials with animals that have much shorter life spans are so important. And these studies suggest that polyphenols have important effects in aging and vitality.

Boosting Your Polyphenol Intake

The good news is, in order to get all these wonderful benefits of polyphenols, all you need to do is eat more foods rich in these compounds.

Unfortunately, the typical Western diet tends to lack good variety and sufficient amounts of these foods. For optimal benefit, I recommend at least five servings of fruits and vegetables, plus other high polyphenols foods and beverages each day.

Some of the best sources of polyphenols are apples, blackberries, blueberries, cantaloupe, cherries, cranberries, grapes, pears, plums, pomegranates, raspberries, and strawberries; in vegetables such as broccoli, cabbage, celery, onions, and parsley; and in nuts such as almonds and walnuts. Others include most legumes, tea (particularly green tea), olive oil, bee pollen, dark chocolate, and even red wine. Keep in mind that produce with darker skins have higher polyphenols levels. (This is why you should choose red wine over white if your goal is to raise your intake of heart-healthy polyphenols.)

As an extra insurance policy—or if your diet falls short one or more days (we’re all human, after all!)—you can always take a polyphenol supplement. You can find these at most health food stores or vitamin retailers. Pomegranate and green tea extracts are both excellent choices. But by and large, the majority of your polyphenols should come from delicious, nutritious whole foods.

About Author

Brian Matthews

Brian Matthews is the President of Gene Smart and the leader of our Gene Smart team. His mission is to provide supplements to help you control your inflammation, your weight, and your life, based on the latest scientific information.

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