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Polyphenols

polyphenols2

Epidemiological studies have seldom produced such clear cut results than those that show that eating plenty of fruits and vegetables is highly beneficial to our health. Research data from numerous clinical and nutritional studies have led to a much better understanding today of the roles played by various dietary components. The secret is not only in the fibre, minerals and vitamins but also in the suite of polyphenols which are contained in these foods.

Unlike mobile living species which can move about to get the necessary nutrients, plants have to produce all the chemical compounds they needed in order to survive. And being totally dependent on light for photosynthesis (including damaging UV light) they need to protect their delicate cells from damaging oxidation by manufacturing an array of polyphenols. In our long history of co-evolution with plants we have apparently come to rely on them in our diet for our own well being.
 
Polyphenols are a class of natural products whose chemical make up renders them the ability to act as very efficient antioxidants i.e. the ability to scavenge free radicals. Free radicals are very reactive chemical species generated during a variety of situations including UV radiation, cigarette smoking and yes, even during normal body metabolism when our body converts glucose into energy. Free radicals can cause cell damage contribute to a variety of diseases including arthritis, coronary heart disease, cancer and neurodegenerative disorders. 
Plants produce many different types of polyphenols depending on the plant species. Green tea for example is rich in a particular polyphenols of which epigallocatechin gallate is a major constituent, grape seeds contain proanthocyanidins while the apple skin is a rich source of flavonoids and chlorogenic acid.  Quite apart from being very efficient free radical scavengers, these polyphenols have also been shown to have other beneficial physiological effects in an extensive range of clinical trials. These effects include immune modulation, anti-inflammatory actions, anti-alzheimers effects, improved glucose tolerance among others.
 
Even more interesting is the belief that the effects of aging might be slowed by the intake of dietary polyphenols, especially members of the hydroxy-stilbene family.  The most active of these compounds is resveratrol, commonly associated with red wine, which has been found to extend the life span of diverse species. 

 

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