In The Public Eye A Dozen Plant Antioxidants You’ll Soon Know

“A journey of 1,000 miles begins with a single step” – a saying sometimes used to nudge procrastinators off the start line.

Such a case exists now for food regulators confronted with growing scientific evidence for the health benefits of plant food chemicals, also called phytochemicals.

Many phytochemicals have significant promise as health agents. Pigments, or the chemicals that give plants their varied colours, have particularly strong health promoting qualities. They have strong properties that reduce or prevent damaging oxidative stress. This is why we call them antioxidants.

Serving as sentries guarding against oxidative stress, antioxidant pigments may eventually be proved as important nutrients for reducing the risk of 100 or more common human diseases including:

o Cancers

o Diabetes

o Chronic inflammation

o Bacterial infections

o Neurodegenerative conditions like Alzheimer’s disease

A difficulty in public understanding of food antioxidants, however, is that the chemical names and properties of dietary antioxidants remain obscure, even though public media increasingly use these terms in news reports about healthful chemicals in plant foods.

Here, we begin a process of public education by presenting phytochemicals with antioxidant functions derived from colorful berries.

We choose berries for several reasons:

o They are rich in colors derived from pigments with antioxidant roles not just for plants, but for humans and animals that eat color-rich plants

o They are the best source among plant foods in Nature for providing a mixture of dietary antioxidants from which synergistic benefits for health occur

o In addition to having antioxidant phytochemicals, berries contain multiple macro- and micronutrients, so they are an appealing healthful plant food

o Berries are already popular due to their excellent tastes and variety of uses in our diet

Caution: like the first step on a 1,000 mile journey, this is just a beginning for introducing antioxidant phytochemicals. We start with only 12, but in Nature, there are thousands more.

Over the next decades of food and medical research, there may be only a few dozen phytochemical antioxidants discussed in public news stories. This represents just the beginning of further education about this important class of plant chemicals.

Listed below are the plant pigments that give color, scent, taste, and bitterness to berries and plant foods. We will identify the berries that contain these pigments and some of the diseases that preliminary research has shown can be prevented or slowed by these healthful antioxidants.

Meet the Antioxidant “Families”

The number of phytochemicals with antioxidant properties is so large (in the thousands) that it is helpful to organize them into logical groups (or a super-family) with smaller subfamilies.

Largest among them is the super-family of phenolics chemically identified by 6-carbon rings with hydroxyl (OH-) group(s) attached.

In descending order of size are the following subfamilies with approximate numbers of individual chemicals bracketed. These groupings are general and not intended to be definitive.

phenolics (8,000)

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flavonoids (1,000) glycosides (400) tannins (500)

| | |

proanthocyanidins (600) cyanidins (100) gallic acid

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anthocyanins (500)

1. Anthocyanins (antho-sigh-an-ins)

o There are numerous chemical members of the phenolic super-family and flavonoid subfamily. Anthocyanins are commonly found in all blue, purple, black and red berries. These plant chemicals may reduce the risk of:

o Cardiovascular disease

o Memory deficits

o High blood cholesterol/triglycerides

o Cancer

o Chronic inflammation

2. Beta-carotene (behta-karo-teen)

o Beta-carotene is a primary carotenoid that most people know as a chemical present in carrots. It is also found in the seeds of dark berries and in the skin/flesh of orange-red colored berries such as seabuckthorn (Hippophae rhamnoides L.) and the Chinese wolfberry (Lycium barbarum L.). Beta-carotene may reduce the risk of:

o Cancer

o Cardiovascular disease

o High blood cholesterol/triglycerides

o Age-related macular degeneration

3. Cyanidin (sigh-an-id-in)

o Cyanidin is a member of the anthocyanin flavonoids. It is also referred to as flavon-3-ol and is linked to numerous glycosides. Cyanidin is present in red grapes, cranberries, strawberries, tart cherries, red raspberries, blueberries and elderberries. It may reduce the risk of:

o Cardiovascular disease

o Chronic inflammation

o Diabetes

o Cancer

4. Flavonoids (flav-on-oyd)

o This is the main subdivision of phenolic pigments responsible for color and taste of many fruits. Flavonoids are present in all dark berries and may reduce the risk of:

o Cardiovascular disease

o Chronic inflammation

o Diabetes,

o Cancer

o Neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s disease

5. Gallic acid (gal-lik)

o Gallic acid is a benzoic acid member of plant tannins within the phenolic super-family. It is found in red grapes, cranberries, strawberries and may reduce the risk of:

o Coronary heart disease

o Chronic inflammation

o Cancer

6. Glycosides (glike-o-side)

o Glycosides are flavonoid molecules with sugar (glyco-) components in the chemical structure. They are found in most dark berries and are implicated in the potential health benefits for all of the above-mentioned diseases.

7. Kaempferol (camp-fer-ol)

o Kaempferol is a member of the flavonoid family. It is present in strawberries. Its benefits include the inhibition of LDL-cholesterol oxidation, the promotion of plaque stability, the improvement of vascular endothelial function, and the decrease in tendency for thrombosis. Kaempferol has also been shown to inhibit COX enzymes in vitro, which would modulate the inflammatory process.

8. Phenolics (phenols, polyphenols, phenolic acids) (feen-ol-iks)

o This is a super-family of several thousand chemicals that give plants their pigmentation, taste, scent and astringency. It is also the primary class of pigment antioxidants found in dark North American and European berries. Phenolics potential inhibit all major diseases.

9. Proanthocyanidins and procyanidins (pro-antho-sigh-an-id-ins)

o This group is best recognized as the phenolics of grape seeds and skins, and is sometimes called “oligomeric proanthocyanidins” or OPC. These chemicals are also found in pine needles and bark from which the commercial antioxidant pycnogenol is extracted. Reports state that OPCs are a multiple of vitamins C and E in antioxidant strength. Proanthocyanidins and procyanidins have considerable laboratory evidence for anti-cancer, anti-inflammatory, anti-thrombotic (anti-clotting) and anti-cholesterolemic effects. They may reduce the risk of:

o Atherosclerosis

o Gastric ulcers

o Colon cancer

o Diabetes

10. Quercetin (kwer-set-in)

o Quercetin is one of the most powerful individual flavonoids yet studied. Quercetin is found in many berries, but especially in red grapes, red raspberries, acerola cherries and cranberries. It may reduce the risk of all major diseases mentioned above.

11. Resveratrol (res-ver-a-trol)

o Resveratrol is a stilbene/phytoestrogen flavonoid. It is most commonly associated with red grapes and dark wines and is also present in deep blue/purple berries like blueberries, bilberries and blackberries. It has beneficial health effects related to cancer, infection, aging, and inflammation. Resveratrol’s life-prolonging effects have been reported on experiments with animals.

12. Tannins (tan-in)

o Tannins are astringent or bitter phenolics that bind and precipate proteins. The term tannin refers to the source of tannins used in tanning animal hides into leather. This includes condensed tannins (proanthocyanidins) and gallic acid (gallotannins) or ellagic acid (ellagitannins). Tannins are joined by carbon-carbon bonds that supply electrons for antioxidant functions that neutralize harmful free radicals. Tannins are present in most dark berries but especially those with sour or bitter taste notes like cranberries, bilberries and black raspberries (also common in black or green tea, deep red wines and pomegranates). Tannins demonstrate antimicrobial, antibiotic, anti-cancer, and anti-aging properties. There is also experimental evidence for effects against:

o Cardiovascular disease

o Inflammation

o Diabetes

o Urinary tract infections

The Phytochemical Database

The Agricultural Research Service (ARS) of the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) has created a database (reference below) that allows in-depth study of the many phytochemicals studied and catalogued to date. ARS describes that thousands of phytochemicals have been isolated and characterized from plants, including fruits and vegetables. The isolated phytochemicals are grouped into distinctive classes by the number and kind of constitutive atoms and the structure of the basic skeleton. The database enables us to search phytochemicals by using their names or an alphabetical list. The data page of each phytochemical contains its chemical structure, formula, and molecular weight.

The ARS database also lists phytochemicals that are a basis for many commercial medications used today for treating diseases like high blood pressure, pain, and asthma. For instance, ephedrine, a phytochemical, is used in commercial pharmaceutical preparations for relief of asthma and common cold symptoms. In this database, biological activities of phytochemicals are classified into several disease conditions so that their medicinal uses can be quickly searched.

In the ARS database, representative chemical groups and phytochemical classes are chosen and indexed for searching phytochemicals easily by their chemical structures. This classification is continually being updated for improved searching. In turn, this type of effort helps educate the public about the positive effects of phytochemicals.

Reading and References

* Nutrient Data Laboratory, Agricultural Research Service, US Department of Agriculture, http://www.nal.usda.gov/fnic/foodcomp/contact.html

* Phytochemical database of the USDA, Agricultural Research Service, http://www.pl.barc.usda.gov/usda_chem/achem_home.cfm

* Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia, http://www.wikipedia.com

Copyright 2006 Berry Health Inc.

Dr. Paul Gross is a scientist and expert on cardiovascular and brain physiology. A published researcher, Gross recently completed a book on the Chinese wolfberry and has begun another on antioxidant berries. Gross is founder of Berry Health Inc, a developer of nutritional, berry-based supplements. For more information, visit http://www.berrywiseonline.com

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Author: Uzumaki Naruto

"I want to see this market as a sharing market. Where merchants and customers sincerely support one another."

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