Polyphenols are a type of plant compound with several health benefits when consumed regularly. It is a micronutrient obtained by consuming plant-based foods. Polyphenols are found in several foods, herbs, and spices. Foods that are highest in polyphenols include tea, dark chocolate, red wine, and berries. The amount and type of polyphenols in foods varies, depending on the food, its origin, ripeness, the way it is farmed, transported, stored, and prepared. Supplements containing polyphenols are available as well, but they are less beneficial than consuming polyphenol-rich foods.
A program to observe the effect of cocoa compounds (a polyphenol) on blood pressure in 2012, Cochrane meta-analysis, shows 35 studies on 1804 individuals. At the intake of 4.4 weeks, flavanol-rich cocoa products significantly reduced the blood pressure compared with low-flavanol-containing cocoa powder or flavanol-free interventions by 1.8/1.8 mmHg.
Some possible health benefits include:
- Decreases blood sugar levels
- Decreases the risk of heart disease
- Improves the health of blood vessels
- Acts as an antioxidant and scavenges free radicals
- Prevents the formation of blood clots in blood vessels
- Decreases the risk of cancer
- Improves digestion
- Improves brain function
- Reduces inflammation in the body
- Slows aging
- Improves the health of the skin
- It is good for the eyes
- Reduces the risk of dementia and memory loss in people across all age groups
What are the types of polyphenols?
There are more than eight thousand different types of polyphenols and they are categorized into 4 main groups:
- Flavonoids: They make up around 60% of all polyphenols. Examples include quercetin, kaempferol, and catechins. They are commonly found in foods like apples, onions, red cabbage, and dark chocolate.
- Phenolic acids: These make up for around 30% of all polyphenols. Examples include stilbenes and lignans. They are usually found in fruits, vegetables, seeds, and whole grains.
- Polyphenolic amides: They include capsaicinoids, usually found in bell peppers and jalapeños, and avenanthramides that are found in oats.
- Other polyphenols: These include resveratrol in red wine, curcumin in turmeric, ellagic acid in berries, lignans in flax seeds, sesame seeds, and whole grains.
Terpene lactones and ginkgo flavone glycosides are a special type of polyphenol present in the leaf of a tree called Ginkgo biloba. These are among the popular phenols present in the market. They have shown numerous health benefits. The effects of these polyphenols are being studied in memory problems, psychiatric issues, skin problems, and eye problems. It has been known to reduce the symptoms of vertigo and ringing in the ear in some individuals if taken for a long time, i.e. 1 year.
Foods that are rich in polyphenols:
- Grapes (especially the purple grape, seeded variety)
- Black and red currants
- Red and yellow onions
- Black beans
- White beans
Nuts and seeds
- Flax seeds
- Sesame seeds
- Whole wheat
Herbs and spices
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Gharras HE. Polyphenols: Food Sources, Properties and Applications – A review. Institute of Food Science & Technology. November 17, 2009. https://ifst.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/j.1365-2621.2009.02077.x
Forman JP. Diet in the Treatment and Prevention of Hypertension. UpToDate. https://www.uptodate.com/contents/diet-in-the-treatment-and-prevention-of-hypertension?search=polyphenol&source=search_result&selectedTitle=1~45&usage_type=default&display_rank=1
Saper RB. Clinical Use of Ginkgo Biloba. UpToDate. https://www.uptodate.com/contents/clinical-use-of-ginkgo-biloba?search=polyphenol&source=search_result&selectedTitle=3~45&usage_type=default&display_rank=3