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Unlocking the Benefits of Polyphenols

Published by Melissa Mitri, MS, RD
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Have you ever wondered why eating plants is so beneficial to your health? While there are an abundance of reasons, one key reason is due to the presence of powerful plant compounds called polyphenols. Polyphenols benefits to health are many.

Regularly consuming polyphenols has been associated with improved digestion, immunity, and a healthy heart. In addition, there is investigation into the role of polyphenols in managing blood sugar and protecting our cells against environmental damage that can increase the risk of common chronic diseases.

There are literally thousands of types of polyphenols naturally found in foods which support their wide ranging health benefits. However, many of us don’t get enough in our diet to reap the true benefits.

Read on to learn what are the health benefits of polyphenols and how to get in enough.

Polyphenol molecule with it's elements replaced by question marks

What are polyphenols?

Polyphenols are a type of phytochemical, which are healthful plant compounds that support several bodily systems. There is mounting research on the anti-aging, antioxidant, and anti-inflammatory properties of various polyphenols.[1]

There are over 8,000 different types of polyphenols, but are categorized according to 4 main groups.

The different types of Polyphenols

There are 4 main classes of polyphenols, based on their chemical structure:

Flavonoids

Flavonoids

Flavonoids are the most well studied group of polyphenols, and are the most abundant. They can be further classified into subgroups such as flavonols, tannins, and anthocyanins. Examples of flavonoids include quercetin and ellagitannins. Ellagitannins are plentiful in pomegranates and are the precursors to Urolithin A conversion by the gut. Mitopure™ is a highly pure form of Urolithin A.

Studies have shown an association between higher flavonoid intake and lower cardiovascular disease risk as well as all-cause mortality, or death.[2]

Phenolic acids

Phenolic acids

Phenolic acids are classified into 2 categories - benzoic acid derivatives, found in teas and grape seed, and cinnamic acid derivatives, found in coffee and citrus fruits, among other sources.

These phenolic acids act as antioxidants that prevent damage from free-radical scavengers, unstable molecules that are all around us that can make us sick. They may also reduce inflammation with regular consumption.[3]

Stilbenes

Stilbenes

Stillbenes are another polyphenol that is not as widespread in foods. The most well known stillbene is resveratrol, one of the polyphenols in wine and grapes. Evidence has shown that stillbenes may reduce aging-related diseases by protecting against oxidative stress.[4]

Lignans

Lignans

Lignans are another polyphenol that is abundant in cell walls. They have a high antioxidant capacity and through this mechanism help to promote health.[5]

Polyphenols health benefits

What are the effects of polyphenols in the body, and how are they able to exert all of their wondrous benefits? One key mode is through their digestive activity in the body and the byproducts they create in the process.

Here are the leading potential benefits of polyphenols:

  • May support healthy brain function. Regular consumption of polyphenols may improve memory and focus, two factors that decline with age. It may facilitate this by improving blood flow to the brain, which is linked to improved working memory and attention. This is the case if you suffer from both short and long-term memory loss.[6]
  • May delay cellular aging. If you want to remain energetic and youthful as long as possible, polyphenols may help you do just that. Polyphenols have been seen to suppress inflammation and regulate age-related pathways in the body. They do this by alleviating damage from reactive oxygen species (ROS), those harmful molecules in the environment we want to steer clear of.[7]

A unique type of polyphenol called ellagitannins found in pomegranates is able to exert these benefits via digestion in the body. These ellagitannins are converted to another compound called ellagic acid first and then is broken down to Urolithin A (UA) a potent anti-aging antioxidant that works its magic to improve cellular health.

UA is the rare molecule found in Mitopure® in amounts shown to regenerate our mitochondria, our cellular powerhouses.

Most adults, more than 60%, do not have the right balance of microorganisms in their gut to create a therapeutic dose of UA from dietary sources. Mitopure ensures the benefits of UA are available to everyone regardless of their capacity to convert the polyphenol precursors.

  • May reduce heart disease risk. – Consuming polyphenols is not only good for your brain, but is also good for your ticker. Through the antioxidant effects of polyphenols, they are able to reduce chronic inflammation which is a major cause of cardiovascular disease. In fact, two recent research reviews revealed a 45% lower risk of death from heart disease in those taking a polyphenol supplement.[8]
  • May lower blood sugar levels. Various studies link those with the highest polyphenol intake with lower fasting blood sugar levels, higher glucose tolerance, and increased insulin sensitivity, suggesting a potential antidiabetic effect. The possible mechanism for this may be that the polyphenols prevent the breakdown of simple sugars that tend to raise blood sugar, thereby minimizing blood sugar spikes.[9]
  • May promote healthy digestion. Polyphenols may also prevent gut woes. They have been seen to promote the growth of healthy bacteria and simultaneously fend off harmful bacteria that can cause uncomfortable symptoms such as bloat, indigestion, and inflammation. Many healthy gut bacteria feed off of polyphenols such as ellagic acid, and in doing this help promote their growth and survival.[10]

Mitopure® nutrient delivers 500 mg of pure Urolithin A in a convenient capsule to supplement dietary intake of polyphenols. This nutrient combined with a varied diet will help maximize the polyphenols health benefits your body receives.

Where can I get more polyphenols?

You may be curious to know what foods have polyphenols. Polyphenols are naturally present in a wide variety of plant foods as well as supplements. They are not present in animal based foods.

The best place to start is through combining different types of polyphenol-rich foods. In this way, you'll get the most bang for your polyphenol buck.

Types of food that are high in polyphenols

Types of foods that are high on polyphenols

Here are the top foods rich in polyphenols.

1. Fruits. Pomegranates, blueberries, blackberries, and strawberries

2. Vegetables. Artichokes, onions, spinach

3. Green and black tea. Green tea polyphenols are abundant and have robust antioxidant properties.[11]

4. Red Wine. Polyphenols in wine are present in higher amounts in red wine, which can be beneficial when consumed in moderation. If you don’t already drink wine, it’s not recommended to start, however, just for the sake of getting your daily dose of polyphenols.

5. Olive Oil. There are polyphenols in olive oils, with some containing more than others depending on their processing methods and types of olives present. You may be wondering what olive oil is highest in polyphenols? A few of the most polyphenol-rich olive oils include Coratina, Conicabra, and Koroneiki varieties.

6. Chocolate. Chocolate lovers rejoice! Cocoa powder and dark chocolate are also rich in polyphenol antioxidants. To maximize the benefits without exceeding your daily sugar quota, stick with 1-2 ounces per day.

7. Spices. Cloves, peppermint, and star anise. These 3 spices are not only rich in polyphenols, but are highly nutritious too. They can be added to both sweet and savory dishes for an antioxidant punch.

Want to know what food is highest in polyphenols? The answer is…drumroll please…

Close-up of a Pomegranate's kernels

Pomegranates! Pomegranates are one of the most nutritious fruits out there, and one of the top foods rich in polyphenols. Numerous studies point to the benefits of two specific polyphenols in pomegranates – ellagitannins and ellagic acid. These are converted by the gut into Urolithin A (UA), the unique molecule shown to slow the aging process and reduce inflammation.[12]

Additionally, preliminary research demonstrates pomegranates may also have the potential to support infant brain health.[13]

Can polyphenols be harmful in some cases?

With all of the positives of polyphenols, you may also be wondering if there are any negatives. For example you may be asking yourself:

  • Can you have too many polyphenols?
  • Are certain polyphenols bad for you?

Polyphenols are generally safe for most people. However, there are a few potential risks of consuming certain polyphenols you should know.[14]

One such potential risk is from isoflavones, the polyphenols present in soy. While this is quite a controversial topic, research has shown both benefits and potential risks when it comes to soy and estrogen balance in the body.[15]

There have been rare cases where polyphenols, specifically quercetin in high doses, may have exhibited carcinogenic effects or interacted with thyroid hormone production(16). However this potential risk has only been seen in small animal studies, which does not necessarily translate to humans.

There is also the potential for polyphenols to interact with prescription medications, so it’s important to always speak to your doctor before drastically changing your diet or starting a supplement.

If you would like to start taking a polyphenol supplement, ensure it is a quality supplement that has been rigorously studied and tested for safety.

Alternative solutions

If you’re not consuming polyphenol-rich foods regularly, a supplement can help fill in the gaps and provide a foundation for optimal cellular health.

Polyphenol supplements are often in higher doses than those present in foods, and therefore may provide an added therapeutic benefit. Urolithin A (UA) is a key polyphenol byproduct that is found in Mitopure® at therapeutic doses.

CoQ10 is another health-promoting nutrient that is found in our mitochondria, the energy center in the body. It plays a direct role in cellular health and energy production. Similar to UA, our capacity to make and absorb CoQ10 also declines with age, therefore taking a supplement is your best bet to receive your daily dose.

Verdict

Polyphenols have been shown to optimize health at the cellular level which results in significant and broad based benefits to the heart, brain, digestive and immune systems, among others. Plentiful in a number of widely available and inexpensive plant and grain sources, easy access to polyphenols makes them an attractive contributor to a healthy diet. To reap the benefits, enjoy plenty of polyphenol-rich foods and consider polyphenol supplements when diet is impractical to ensure your body soaks up all those wonderful health-promoting polyphenols.

References
  1. Cory H, Passarelli S, Szeto J, Tamez M, Mattei J. The Role of Polyphenols in Human Health and Food Systems: A Mini-Review. Front Nutr. 2018;5:87. Published 2018 Sep 21. doi:10.3389/fnut.2018.00087.

  2. Hejazi, J., Ghanavati, M., Hejazi, E. et al. Habitual dietary intake of flavonoids and all-cause and cause-specific mortality: Golestan cohort study. Nutr J 19, 108 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1186/s12937-020-00627-8.

  3. Naresh Kumar, Nidhi Goel. Phenolic acids: Natural versatile molecules with promising therapeutic applications. Biotechnology Reports, Volume 24, 2019. ISSN 2215-017X. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.btre.2019.e00370.

  4. Reinisalo M, Kårlund A, Koskela A, Kaarniranta K, Karjalainen RO. Polyphenol Stilbenes: Molecular Mechanisms of Defence against Oxidative Stress and Aging-Related Diseases. Oxid Med Cell Longev. 2015;2015:340520. doi:10.1155/2015/340520

  5. Vinardell MP, Mitjans M. Lignins and Their Derivatives with Beneficial Effects on Human Health. Int J Mol Sci. 2017;18(6):1219. Published 2017 Jun 7. doi:10.3390/ijms18061219

  6. Krikorian R, Nash TA, Shidler MD, Shukitt-Hale B, Joseph JA. Concord grape juice supplementation improves memory function in older adults with mild cognitive impairment. Br J Nutr. 2010 Mar;103(5):730-4. doi: 10.1017/S0007114509992364. Epub 2009 Dec 23. PMID: 20028599.

  7. Queen BL, Tollefsbol TO. Polyphenols and aging. Curr Aging Sci. 2010;3(1):34-42. doi:10.2174/1874609811003010034

  8. Rienks J, Barbaresko J, Nöthlings U. Association of Polyphenol Biomarkers with Cardiovascular Disease and Mortality Risk: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Observational Studies. Nutrients. 2017;9(4):415. Published 2017 Apr 22. doi:10.3390/nu9040415

  9. Kim Y, Keogh JB, Clifton PM. Polyphenols and Glycemic Control. Nutrients. 2016;8(1):17. Published 2016 Jan 5. doi:10.3390/nu8010017

  10. Marín L, Miguélez EM, Villar CJ, Lombó F. Bioavailability of dietary polyphenols and gut microbiota metabolism: antimicrobial properties. Biomed Res Int. 2015;2015:905215. doi: 10.1155/2015/905215. Epub 2015 Feb 23. PMID: 25802870; PMCID: PMC4352739.

  11. Chacko SM, Thambi PT, Kuttan R, Nishigaki I. Beneficial effects of green tea: a literature review. Chin Med. 2010;5:13. Published 2010 Apr 6. doi:10.1186/1749-8546-5-13

  12. Javad Sharifi-Rad, Cristina Quispe, Carla Marina Salgado Castillo, Rodrigo Caroca, Marco A. Lazo-Vélez, Halyna Antonyak, Alexandr Polishchuk, Roman Lysiuk, Petro Oliinyk, Luigi De Masi, Paola Bontempo, Miquel Martorell, Sevgi Durna Daştan, Daniela Rigano, Michael Wink, William C. Cho, "Ellagic Acid: A Review on Its Natural Sources, Chemical Stability, and Therapeutic Potential", Oxidative Medicine and Cellular Longevity, vol. 2022, Article ID 3848084, 24 pages, 2022.https://doi.org/10.1155/2022/3848084

  13. Ross, M.M., Cherkerzian, S., Mikulis, N.D. et al. A randomized controlled trial investigating the impact of maternal dietary supplementation with pomegranate juice on brain injury in infants with IUGR. Sci Rep 11, 3569 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-021-82144-0

  14. Louise I Mennen, Ron Walker, Catherine Bennetau-Pelissero, Augustin Scalbert, Risks and safety of polyphenol consumption, The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Volume 81, Issue 1, January 2005, Pages 326S–329S, https://doi.org/10.1093/ajcn/81.1.326S

  15. Messina M. Soy and Health Update: Evaluation of the Clinical and Epidemiologic Literature. Nutrients. 2016;8(12):754. Published 2016 Nov 24. doi:10.3390/nu8120754

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These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease. References: *Nutrition studies: 500mg Mitopure® have been shown to (1) induce gene expression related to mitochondria function and metabolism and (2) increase the strength of the hamstring leg muscle in measures of knee extension and flexion in overweight 40-65 year olds. Data from two randomized double-blind placebo-controlled human clinical trials. **Nutrition NOURISH Study: 500mg Mitopure® have been shown to deliver at least 6 times higher Urolithin A plasma levels over 24 hours (area under the curve) than 8 ounces (240ml) of pomegranate juice in a randomized human clinical trial.