Polyphenols are naturally occurring chemical compounds sourced from plants, providing plants their color and working to protect their host plants from assorted dangers. Those protections also transfer to you when you eat foods with polyphenols. Knowing where to find polyphenols isn’t the issue as such foods are very plentiful, but the willingness to eat those foods and benefit from them is up to you.
500 Types and Counting
There are more than 500 types of specific polyphenols, which collectively are known as phytochemicals, per medicalnewstoday.com (healthline.com puts that number as in excess of 8,000). All polyphenols are similar ring-shaped cellular structures, per verywellfit.com, but where they differ from one another is in the number of rings that each has and in the assortment of molecules that are attached to those rings.
While that’s a pretty large number to grasp, regardless which of those referenced numbers you prefer, and obviously we won’t list them here, we can break them down into four distinct categories of polyphenols:
- Flavonoids: Flavonoids are the most abundant category of polyphenols, comprising about 60 percent of these phytochemicals. They work as both antioxidants and in fighting inflammation, and they can be found in fruits, vegetables, legumes, red wine, and green tea, per verywellfit.com.
- Phenolic acids: These make up about 30 percent of polyphenol types, functioning as antioxidants while being easily absorbed into your intestinal tract. These acids can also act as anti-inflammatories in your body and can be found in a variety of foods to include coffee, tea, grapes, red wine, berries, kiwi fruits, plums, apples, and cherries, per verywellfit.com.
- Stilbenes: These polyphenols, known best for enhancing heart health, are a comparatively small cluster of plant chemicals, with resveratrol generally considered the most popular and probably the most studied in this category. Resveratrol can be found in red wine, blueberries, cranberries, and peanuts.
- Lignans: These can be found in abundance in flax seeds and sesame seeds, as well as legumes, cereals, and other foods, and they have been linked to cardiovascular health.
Health Benefits of Polyphenols
Considering that polyphenols are predominantly antioxidants as well as anti-inflammatories, which puts them on guard against chronic diseases, it stands to reason that they possess a variety of potential health benefits, including the following:
- Type 2 diabetes. Polyphenols can improve insulin sensitivity and reduce the rate at which your body digests and absorbs sugars, per medicalnewstoday.com, which refers to studies that link the ingestion of flavonoids to reduced risk of type 2 diabetes.
- Heart disease. Per healthline.com, polyphenols’ antioxidant properties can diminish chronic inflammation, which is considered a risk factor for heart disease. Studies have shown that polyphenol supplements can reduce elevated blood pressure as well as affect cholesterol levels positively by both lowering LDL (“bad) cholesterol and raising HDL (“good”) cholesterol.
- Prevent blood clots. Blood clots are created when blood platelets cluster together in your bloodstream. This is useful when thwarting excess bleeding, but it can become a problem when such platelet aggregation eventually leads to deep vein thrombosis, stroke, or pulmonary embolism. Polyphenols apparently have a role in reducing such platelet aggregation, with catechins in tea reportedly able to slow down clogging of arteries, per verywellfit.com.
- Healthy digestion. Polyphenols are capable of enhancing digestion by bolstering the growth of beneficial gut bacteria while fighting off harmful such bacteria, per healthline.com. Polyphenols found in green tea can fend off harmful bacteria such as E. Coli and Salmonella, while alleviating symptoms of peptic ulcer disease and inflammatory bowel disease.
- Improve brain function. As with other health benefits mentioned here, there are no guarantees, but research has shown that foods with an abundance of polyphenols might be able to boost your focus and memory. Two such foods/drinks cited at healthline.com include grape juice and cocoa, the latter of which contain flavanols that appear able to improve blood flow to the brain.
- Prevent cellular damage. This is where the antioxidant characteristics of polyphenols come to the forefront, working to defend against cellular damage that can possibly be caused by pollution, smoking, and consuming rancid foods, among other sources, per verywellfit.com.