Polyphenols are a hot topic among functional food proponents due to increasing evidence that they can impact your health in positive ways. Polyphenols are antioxidant compounds derived from plants. Antioxidants are substances that neutralize unstable molecules in your body called free radicals, which can cause cell damage. A number of polyphenol supplements are currently popular with consumers. Consult your doctor before taking polyphenol supplements.
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Hundreds of polyphenol compounds have been discovered in dietary sources, according to “Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition.” Flavonoids and phenolic acids are the main types. Flavonoids include several different classes, including quercetin, found in onions, apples and tea; catechin, found in tea and fruit; and proanthocyanadin, found in cocoa, apples and grapes. Phenolic acids include ferulic acid, which is found in cereals, and caffeic acid, which is found in many fruits and vegetables.
Polyphenols can decrease your risk of arterial lesions, which lead to increased risk of heart disease. Polyphenols may also have anticancer effects in certain population subgroups, though the data supporting this is inconclusive. There is also some indication that polyphenols may help prevent dementia, osteoporosis and diabetes, though research results are mixed and more study is needed.
It is important to understand that not all polyphenols have identical effects. This chemical class is broad and varied, and some polyphenols are more readily absorbed and utilized by the human body than others. According to University of California professor Parris M. Kidd, technologies that bond polyphenols to molecules of phophatidylcholine help to make polyphenols more readily absorbable through the lining of your intestine, thus increasing their bioavailability. Kidd suggests that this process, called phytosome technology, is underutilized, despite proof that it improves the performance of polyphenol supplements.
Polyphenols are an expanding area of nutritional discovery, but much work needs to be done before researchers fully understand the implications of polyphenol supplement use. Do not attempt to self-prescribe polyphenols. As “The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition” notes, more study is needed to determine the risks of polyphenol supplements, which may include carcinogenic effects, thyroid toxicity, interactions with prescription medications, antinutritional effects and estrogen-like activity.
- "The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition"; Risks and Safety of Polyphenol Consumption; Louise I Mennen, et al.; January 2005
- "Alternative Medicine Review"; Bioavailability and Activity of Phytosome Complexes from Botanical Polyphenols: The Silymarin, Curcumin, Green Tea, and Grape Seed Extracts; Parris M. Kidd; 2009
- Merriam-Webster: Polyphenol