Polyphenols 101: Your ultimate guide to polyphenols

what are polyphenols

Polyphenol intake has been linked to promoting better health in myriad ways, including support for blood sugar regulation, reducing risk factors for heart disease, and boosting brain function. Found in many of the most colorful, plant-based foods, polyphenols are also available as supplements. Eden's synbiotic blend contains polyphenol extracts of green kiwifruit, gold kiwifruit, lychee, green tea, and turmeric to complement the synbiotic’s carefully selected mix of prebiotics and probioticsBut what are polyphenols, exactly?

This guide will explain what you need to know about polyphenols, how they work, how they impact your health, where you can find the best sources of them, and ways you can incorporate them into your daily diet.

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What are polyphenols, and how do they work?

Polyphenols are compounds found in plants, most of which work as antioxidants in the body to neutralize free radicals that can damage cells and potentially increase risk for disease. More than 8,000 types have been identified, grouped in four main categories:

 

  • Flavonoids
  • Phenolic acids
  • Lignans
  • Stilbenes
  • How do polyphenols interact with the microbiome?

    The relationship of polyphenols to the gut microbiome is bi-directional; they can impact composition of the gut microbiota and help balance good and bad bacterial growth, while the gut microbes help metabolize polyphenols into compounds that are more easily absorbed. This two-way interaction between polyphenols and gut microbes is linked to the health effects of polyphenols, as detailed in the next section.

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      What are the health benefits of polyphenols?

      What are the health benefits of polyphenols? The general mechanism of action for polyphenols involves the promotion of a healthy inflammatory response, neutralization of damaging free radicals, and a resultant positive impact upon the gut microbiome. While research is ongoing concerning the precise ways in which individual polyphenols contribute to reducing risks for various chronic conditions and other disorders, many polyphenols are believed to be beneficially involved in a wide variety of health effects, most notably: 

      What are the best polyphenol foods?

      The positive health associations observed with the consumption of polyphenol rich foods are a part of the reason why healthcare professionals now recommend adoption of and adherence to a plant-forward dietary pattern, which has other health attributes going far beyond the polyphenol component — relating to such factors as the rich quantities of prebiotic fibers and important micronutrients (e.g., vitamins and minerals) in many vegetables, fruits, whole grains, nuts, legumes and seeds. 

      Amongst the many polyphenol plant-based foods, there are many that could qualify as “superfoods,” but there is no “one” that delivers all the benefits of all the different types of important polyphenols. Spices, soy, coffee, tea, fruits, vegetables, nuts, chocolate, and wine are a few foods included in a study that identified a list of the top 100 polyphenol-containing foods. Here’s a shorter, and by no means comprehensive list of the best polyphenol foods: 

      • Fruits: berries, currants, grapes, cherries, plums, apples, pears, kiwi, pomegranates, tomatoes and some citrus fruits
      • Vegetables: artichokes, carrots, potatoes, rhubarb, red cabbage, kale, onions, broccoli, spinach, eggplant, shallots, broccoli, and asparagus
      • Legumes: black beans, soybeans, lentils, and white beans
      • Nuts and seeds: almonds, hazelnuts, pecans, walnuts, and flax seeds
      • Whole Grains: oats, rye, wheat, rice
      • Herbs and spices: basil, marjoram, parsley, peppermint, and spearmint (all dried); cinnamon, cloves, cumin, caraway, rosemary, sage, thyme, and star anise
      • Others: black and green tea, coffee, dark chocolate, red wine, vinegar, ginger, and olives (including olive oil)

      The type of food, its origin, its ripeness, how it was farmed, how it was transported, and how it was stored can all affect the type and quantity of polyphenols found in a food.

      What are the best polyphenol supplements?

      Because foods are complex mixtures of different compounds, and it’s difficult for consumers to decipher which ones contain the best sources and quantities of healthy compounds such as polyphenols, supplements are worth consideration. Together with key prebiotics and probiotics, Eden’s synbiotic blend contains five carefully-selected and scientifically-vetted supplemental polyphenol ingredients in a formulation designed to support metabolic and immune health:

      • Green Kiwi Fruit: Green kiwi contains a wide array of nourishing compounds — including fiber, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidant-rich polyphenols. This nutrient-rich fruit acts as food for beneficial microflora and has been researched for supporting healthy digestion. Eden’s has chosen to use Actazin®, an evidence-based kiwi concentrate from New Zealand that has been shown in human studies to increase bowel regularity. Actazin has also been researched for its prebiotic effects and for easing symptoms of GI distress, such as gas and bloating.  
      • Gold Kiwi Fruit: Like its green relative, gold kiwi is an incredibly nourishing polyphenol-rich fruit and has a beneficial prebiotic effect on the gut microbiome. Eden’s has selected Livaux®, a patented gold kiwi extract, also from New Zealand. In clinical research, Livaux was found to significantly increase the population of Faecalibacterium prausnitzii (F. prau), an intestinal bacterium that produces short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs), which, as explained in our article on fiber, are essential for gut health and many physiological functions. 
      • Lychee and Green Tea: Both the tropical fruit lychee (aka litchi) and green tea contain significant levels of polyphenols, and have been researched individually for their nutritional benefits. Oligonol®, a patented polyphenol extract that combines lychee and green tea, has been found to support circulation, oxidative stress, and a healthy inflammatory response. Over 30 clinical trials have explored Oligonol’s effects on cardiometabolic health, anti-aging, sports nutrition, and lean muscle mass.
      • Turmeric: Turmeric is a root in the ginger family that is associated with numerous therapeutic benefits, largely attributed to the antioxidant activity and anti-inflammatory effects of its principal active component, curcumin. Although most widely investigated for joint health, curcumin has been shown to be beneficial for chronic health concerns ranging from cardiometabolic and GI health to brain health and mood.

      Can consuming polyphenols cause side effects? 

      The polyphenols naturally present in commonly consumed foods are unlikely to cause negative health effects. However, as with other chemical substances, when concentrated, it is possible that polyphenols could exert harmful effects — depending on such factors as the dose, certain physiological conditions of the user, and potential interactions with medications. Thus, it is important to speak to your healthcare provider prior to using any dietary supplement.

        Key takeaways

        So, what are polyphenols? Polyphenols are compounds found in plants which work as antioxidants in the body and support a healthy inflammatory response. Intake of polyphenols has been linked to promoting better health in myriad ways, including support for blood sugar regulation, reducing risk factors for heart disease, and boosting brain function. The best way to get polyphenols is to eat a variety of polyphenol foods — such as certain spices, teas, fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, and nuts. When choosing a polyphenol supplement, be sure to consider scientifically-vetted ingredients in safe doses, and inquire with your healthcare provider prior to use. 

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