Human beings ingest around 500 g of chemical compounds every day in their diet, most of which are components of plants or vegetables in general. In addition to the well-known proteins, fats, carbohydrates and essential micronutrients such as minerals and vitamins, the plant world provides phenols, terpenes, terpenoids, alkaloids, purines, pyrimidines, nucleic acids, steroids, and numerous other molecules that exert powerful biological activities.
Among the various phytochemical compounds that are consumed daily in the diet and for which recent studies have proven a beneficial activity on human health, polyphenols play a particularly important role. Polyphenols are a family of around 5000 natural, semi-natural or synthetic organic molecules that are widely present in the plant kingdom. They can be divided into four classes, which include most of the polyphenols found in food: flavonoids, phenolic acids, stilbenes and lignans.
In general, the activity of polyphenols can be summarised as follows:
1. ANTIOXIDANT: they protect cells from damage caused by free radicals, which develop as a result of normal cell metabolism and stressful events, such as radiation, smoke, pollutants, UV rays, emotional and physical stress, chemical additives and viral and bacterial attacks;
2. ANTI-CANCEROGENIC: in general, they show an impact on the initiation step of cancer development by protecting cells against direct attack by carcinogens or by altering their activation mechanism (in vitro). This scientific evidence explains the classic epidemiological evidence that there is a correlation between the consumption of fresh vegetables and a reduced incidence of certain types of cancer (skin, lung, stomach, oesophagus, duodenum, pancreas, liver, breast and colon);
3. ANTI-ATHEROGENIC: it is widely reported that lipid oxidation, and LDL in particular, is the cause of the development of atherosclerosis and related diseases (stroke, thrombosis and cardiovascular diseases in general, the leading cause of death in western countries). The main mechanism mediated by polyphenols is the reduction of platelet and LDL coagulation; other mechanisms are the inhibition of lipoprotein oxidation, the radical scavenger action and the modulation of eicosanoid metabolism;
4. ANTINFIAMMATORY: inhibition of the arachidonic acid cascade
5. ANTIBACTERIAL and ANTIVIRAL
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