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Polyphenols and Heart Disease

Polyphenols and Heart Disease


Polyphenols are a category of phytochemicals that naturally occur in plants. There are more than 500 unique polyphenols, but the most common types are flavonoids, phenolic acids, stilbenes, and lignin's.

Don't let the "chemical" names fool you. These are major constituents of the plants, fruits and vegetables that are considered most beneficial to a healthy diet.

Many of the health benefits associated with polyphenols are thought to be related to their role as antioxidants. Antioxidants are known for their ability to combat cell damage. They may also impact genes and gene expression. Polyphenols may even influence gut bacteria.

Among other things, polyphenols are thought to be beneficial in treating inflammation, type 2 diabetes, heart disease and circulation, and obesity.

Early studies suggest polyphenols may help prevent chronic diseases, but there are few trials that measure the health effects of polyphenols in populations over time.
In a recent study, doctors measured total and individual polyphenols in the diets of 84,158 French adults and followed up over a nine-year study period, ending in 2017.

What they found was that, overall, those with higher levels of polyphenols in the diet, especially anthocyanins, catechins, and flavonols, were significantly less likely to develop heart and circulatory disease compared to those who consumed fewer polyphenols.

Discussing the findings, doctors said, "In this large prospective study, three categories of polyphenols showed strong linear associations with a decreased risk of cardiovascular diseases: anthocyanins, catechins, and flavonols."

(Reference: Nutrients; October, 2018, Vol. 10, No.11)

As stated above, polyphenols can be found in fruits and vegetables. They are also present in whole grains, nuts, seeds, legumes, spices, tea, coffee and red wine. One source that might surprise you is dark chocolate and cocoa powder. In fact, there is considerable interest in cocoa flavanols. Earlier, trials found a link between cocoa flavanols and better circulation. In this recent study, 45 healthy men, aged 18 to 35, took a placebo, or about 550 mg of procyanidins, plus either 20 mg or 130 mg of epicatechins, with breakfast for one month. Both flavanols were from cocoa extract.

Doctors excluded men who had taken antibiotics or vitamins within the last 90 days, those on a vegan, vegetarian, or other extreme diet, and those who consumed more than two alcoholic drinks per day. Twenty-four hours before beginning the 30-day trial, doctors asked the men to not eat flavanol-rich foods including fruits, vegetables, cocoa, chocolate, tea, coffee, or alcohol.

After one month, men in the high-dose epicatechins group saw significant increases in the ability of blood vessels and arteries to relax and dilate, and improvements in their flexibility, both of which are keys to circulatory and heart health. Both cocoa flavanol groups also saw lower total cholesterol levels compared to placebo, which doctors believe is due to the action of the procyanidins.

(Reference: American Journal of Clinical Nutrition; October, 2018, Published Online)

It is clear that a polyphenol rich diet is beneficial to your health. Polyphenol rich supplements are available to augment your diet. The pharmacists and nutritionists at Willner Chemists are available to help you select the specific supplements most appropriate for your unique health needs.

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Polyphenols, procyanidins and epicatechins