When you walk down the aisle of your local health food store, looking at the wall of supplements can be enough to make your head spin.
Some of them are simple enough to understand.
Most of us know about the essential vitamins and minerals we need, even if we don’t know exactly what each one does or when to supplement them.
But that wall of supplements goes far beyond just vitamins and minerals, doesn’t it?
Curcumin? Glutathione? Phosphatidylserine? What on Earth are these things?
The answers to those questions are for another article.
Today, we’ll take a look at polyphenols.
These natural nutrients can serve as great natural heart health solutions, and have a number of other health benefits.
Read on to find out more.
What Are Polyphenols?
Polyphenols are organic chemicals that come from a number of different plant-based foods.
From the plant’s perspective, they offer a number of different benefits. They play a role in signaling when the plant’s fruit ought to begin ripening, protecting against ultraviolet radiation, and fighting off microbial infections.
There are a number of different substances which fall under the category polyphenol, and some have names you might recognize.
Quercetin, for example, is one of the better known polyphenols.
If you’re a wine enthusiast, you may have heard discussion about tannins. Tannins are what give a wine its dryness, and they’re also considered polyphenols.
Wine tannins usually come from the grape seed, skin, or the oak of the barrel in which it was aged.
Other polyphenols include:
Health Benefits Of Polyphenols
From a human health perspective, polyphenols offer a number of different health benefits.
Let’s take a look at what they are.
1. May Reduce Inflammation
Inflammation is one of your body’s responses to protect us from infection.
Sometimes, it’s a good thing.
For example, if you scrape your knee, part of your body’s way of repairing it is by inflaming the affected area.
However, chronic inflammation has been linked to many chronic illnesses, including:
- Inflammatory bowel diseases like Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis
- Arthritis, particularly rheumatoid arthritis
- Chronic ulcers
Reducing inflammation is one way to help manage these conditions.
A 2012 study by Liao Et Al found that an extract of the polyphenol-rich plant Cinnamomum cassia, or Chinese cinnamon, had excellent anti-inflammatory properties.
As well, curcumin is well-known for its anti-inflammatory properties.
Curcumin is what gives the spice turmeric its yellow colour. You can find it in many Indian foods, as well as in table mustard.
A 2015 study by Yan Et Al outlines its anti-inflammatory properties.
2. May Help Regulate Body Weight
Losing weight is an ongoing concern in modern society.
According to data from Statistics Canada, just over 1/3 of Canadians are considered to be overweight.
It seems like polyphenols may hold a solution for weight loss.
A 2011 study by Reza Rastmanesh found that a diet rich in polyphenols could help with weight loss by interacting with the gut’s microbiome.
Another study, this one in December 2019 by Peng Et Al found polyphenols from the plant Solanum nigrum, or black nightshade, were effective in reducing body fat by regulating lipid metabolism and decreasing the amount of adipocytes.
Adipocytes are cells your body uses to store fat.
And coming back to curcumin once more, a 2015 study by Di Pierro Et Al took a look at how curcumin could affect weight loss.
They gathered a group of people who’d made a concerted effort for 30 days to lose weight, without much success.
After that, they administered curcumin supplements along with phosphatidylserine, and found the rate of weight loss improved significantly.
3. May Reduce Risk Of Type 2 Diabetes
One of the main concerns associated with type 2 diabetes is hyperglycemia – high blood sugar.
Insulin is a hormone your body uses to metabolize sugar.
When you’re diabetic, your body either doesn’t produce insulin at all – type 1 – or it doesn’t produce enough to manage the sugar in your system – type 2.
Polyphenols help stimulate the production of insulin in your body.
They can also prevent starches from being broken down into sugars, which leads to a blood sugar surge after you eat.
4. May Reduce Blood Pressure And LDL Cholesterol
Remember the classic phrase “an apple a day keeps the doctor away”?
Part of the reason for that is because of the polyphenol content of apples.
A study from December 2019 by Koutsos Et Al found that two apples a day were able to lower LDL cholesterol (“bad” cholesterol) in rats.
LDL cholesterol build-up is one of the main reasons leading to conditions like atherosclerosis . And because atherosclerosis is one of the leading causes of death, this research is promising.
5. May Help Improve Digestion
Having a healthy gut microbiome is critical to healthy digestion.
Broadly speaking, there are two ways to do that – support the growth of beneficial bacteria, and suppress the growth of harmful bacteria.
Polyphenols can help you do both.
In particular, they can promote the growth of bifidobacteria, and fight off salmonella, E. coli, and C. difficile.
As well, polyphenols have been shown effective in managing a number of digestive disorders, including inflammatory bowel diseases and peptic ulcers.
Dietary Sources Of Polyphenols
In general, you can get polyphenols from most plant-based foods. In particular, though, the following foods are particularly rich in them:
- Star anise
- Chocolate, particularly dark chocolate
- Black beans
- Red onions
- Soy, particularly tempeh
- Black tea
- Green tea
- Wine, particularly red wine
Potential Risks From Polyphenols
Scientific research has only been exploring the effects of polyphenols for a short time, so we’re not as far in our understanding of them as we’d like to be.
There do seem to be some risks which we don’t fully understand yet, but for the most part those are associated with polyphenol supplements.
So if you eat a plant-based diet or you enjoy a cup of green tea, you probably don’t need to worry.
Polyphenol supplements may interact with certain prescription medications though, so be mindful of that.
Book An Appointment With Annex Naturopathic
If you’re interested in exploring what polyphenols can do for you, it’s best to speak with a naturopathic doctor.
Book an appointment at Annex Naturopathic today to find out more.
We’ll take the time to listen to your concerns, diagnose, and build a treatment plan designed to address those concerns.
Whether or not polyphenols are right for you is a more complex question than for certain other health supplements.
Book an appointment with Annex Naturopathic today.
Yours in Health,
Dr. Marnie Luck, N.D
Annex Naturopathic Clinic is a clinic in Toronto that offers integrative healthcare solutions from Drs. Marnie Luck, ND, and Tanya Lee, ND