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What are Polyphenols?

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There are thousands of health buzzwords that are difficult to keep track of. If it isn't a vitamin, is it necessary? Learn everything you need to know about polyphenols and what they can do for you in this helpful article.

Ever wonder exactly what some of the more strange-sounding health buzzwords mean? Today, we examine the mystery that is polyphenols and find out exactly what these strange chemicals are and how they can benefit your health.

What are Polyphenols?

Polyphenols are a type of photochemical, which is a chemical that is found naturally in plants and produced through photosynthesis. Polyphenols have antioxidant properties and are some of the most powerful antioxidants known today.

According to a 2007 study published in the International Journal of Medical Science, there are over 8,000 known polyphenols that are found in foods like olive oil, fruit, chocolate, tea, wine, vegetables, and other plant foods. Polyphenols are able to work with your body to protect your cells from free radical damage, which not only reduces cancer risk but also helps fight the signs of aging. Polyphenols directly influence your rate of tissue damage, cell performance, and your risk of getting common diseases like cancer, heart disease, and Alzheimer's disease.

In addition to polyphenols, there are also two other kinds of antioxidants, called carotenoids and allyl sulfides. Polyphenols have four distinct categories based on how many phenol rings they contain. The rings influence the exact properties of each polyphenol and how it reacts in the body.

Each type of polyphenol is slightly more beneficial for certain tasks inside the body.


Flavonoids are popular and talked about a lot in the health community. Flavonoids are found in wine, fruit, vegetables, green tea, and legumes. Flavonoids have both antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.


Stilbenes are much less talked about but are found mainly in red wines and peanuts. They are attributed with an anti-cancer benefit and fight cell damage. Phenolic acid Phenolic acids are acids with anti-inflammatory benefits. They are found mainly in cinnamon, tea, kiwi fruit, blueberries, coffee, plums, cherries, and apples.


Lignans are found mainly in legumes, seeds, and grains. You will also find them in some fruit, algae, and vegetables. Lignans have both antioxidant and anti-inflammatory benefits.

How do Polyphenols Keep You Healthy?

According to research, polyphenols are what give vegetables, fruit, and berries their bright colors. Polyphenols also give foods bitterness, flavor, aroma, tanginess, and smell. The role of polyphenols in plant form is to prevent UV radiation from damaging the fruit and to protect against other diseases and oxidative damage. Basically, polyphenols are the first line of defense against cell damage, which works both in the original plant and in your body after you eat it.

A 2009 study published in Oxidative Medicine and Cellular Longevity found that in humans, polyphenols play the following roles:

Benefits of Polyphenols
  • Fights the appearance of aging
  • Protects the heart
  • Reduces inflammation
  • Fights cancer cells
  • Prevents the feeding of tumor cells
  • Protects the skin against skin cancer
  • Promotes healthy brain function
  • Prevents high blood pressure
  • Supports blood sugar levels

Health Benefits of Polyphenols

Research has found a clear link between polyphenol intake and the risk or prevention of numerous common health problems. The strongest research suggests that polyphenols play a large part in preventing obesity, raising mood, preventing diabetes, reducing cancer risk, building strong bones, keeping the mind healthy, and preventing heart disease.


In a 2013 study published in the Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry, it was found that polyphenols could influence the kind of bacteria that lived in the intestines. Previous research has shown that individuals who are obese are more likely to have higher levels of firmicutes bacteria and much lower levels of bacteroidetes than thinner people. Firmicute bacteria help convert sugar to fat, while bacteroidetes prevent this from happening.

The researchers found in the 2013 study that polyphenols are directly related to determining which bacteria are present and which isn't. Just by eating additional sources of polyphenols it was possible to prevent weight gain and keep fat-collecting bacteria in check.


The link between bacteria and mood is stronger than ever. Numerous studies indicate that the right balance of gut bacteria is essential for mental health. According to the same 2013 study mentioned above, it was found that the presence of polyphenols helps encourage the bacteria that lifts mood while fighting the bacteria that influences low mood. The study researchers noted that green tea, chocolate, grape seed, and black currant had the highest effect on raising mood.

Type 2 Diabetes

Type 2 diabetes is one of the most common preventable diseases today. It is caused by the inclusion of too much sugar in the diet. Research indicates that along with a healthy diet, including polyphenols in the diet can reduce diabetes risk. If you eat nothing but sugar alongside your polyphenol foods, you will probably still have problems, but they provide extra protection from the disease along with a healthy diet.


Antioxidants have long been tied to a reduction in cancer risk. Cancer is largely influenced by free radical damage, and the more antioxidants are present in the body, the lower the cancer risk. Researchers believe that polyphenols have a protective effect on DNA that ensures cells grow properly and reduces the risk for tumor growth.


Osteoporosis is a damaging condition where minerals are leached from bones, creating weak, holey bones that break and crack easily. polyphenols even benefit bone health with their antioxidant power that helps keep your bones healthy and strong.

Mental Health

According to recent research published in Oxidative Medicine and Cellular Longevity in 2009, polyphenols play a large role in our mental health. The study researchers found that polyphenols, specifically resveratrol, had protective effects in the brain. Studies show that when patients with dementia are fed foods rich in polyphenols, their symptoms worsen slower and even reverse in some cases.

Heart Health

Above all, polyphenols have a protective effect on heart health. The presence of polyphenols helps keep blood pressure low, reduces blood clots and plaque buildup, and reduces heart attack risk. polyphenols are also beneficial for reducing total inflammation, which reduces the risk of inflammation-related heart problems that can lead to the tightening of arteries and blood vessels.

Want to be Healthy? Get Your Polyphenols

As these studies show, polyphenols are an important part of any healthy diet. Without them, the body is open to damage from a wide variety of sources. polyphenols act like guards for your body's symptoms and are some of the first defenses your body has against oxidative damage. It is easy to find foods with polyphenols. Nearly all vegetables and fruit contain polyphenols. Foods with rich, dark colors are high in polyphenols and provide protective benefits. Eat a mix of seeds, fruit, vegetables, and legumes to provide your body with all four types of polyphenols that will keep you healthy for life.





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