There is a huge amount of marketing around anti-aging interventions. Creams, potions, diets, medications, devices, surgeries, fasting, exercise programs—all with a claim to turn back the hands of time. There is no perfect and easy answer, but there are some things you can do to slow down the damage that is done as we age, though not age itself. A lot of it comes down to compounds found in food.
Human beings cannot survive without macronutrients—fat, protein and carbohydrates. These are the components of our food whether vegan, paleo, keto, Mediterranean or McDonald’s. The next thing we cannot survive without are essential vitamins and minerals, including micronutrients. For example, if a person has a diet with absolutely no vitamin C, they will develop vitamin C deficiency (called scurvy) and die. I think we all understand the necessity of all these key elements required for life itself. That is why they are called “essential.”
The next most important group of compounds are called polyphenols, and a lot of people have not heard of them. These are compounds in plants that possess amazing properties, including anti-inflammatory activity, immune strengthening, liver and detox facilitation, and protection of the DNA (our blueprints) in our cells. You will not die as quickly from lack of polyphenols as lack of the other essential classes of nutrients, but you cannot live a long and healthy life without them. That is why scientists call them “lifespan essentials” and I couldn’t agree more.
There are more than 8,000 polyphenols, and each and every one of them has unique characteristics. Some are powerful, some not so much. Some are particularly good for inflammation, while others are better at boosting liver detoxification processes. That is why we have to eat all the colors of the rainbow. Blue polyphenols are different from green, red, orange, yellow and purple polyphenols. To get the optimal mix of these compounds on board, it is not just about amount (at least 1,000 mg a day), it is about variety of type. For example, if a person only loved spinach and ate no other fruits or vegetables, she could get 1,000 mg a day eating 14 spinach salads, but they would be of only one type! She would therefore not benefit from the full spectrum and would not have the health impact of more diverse polyphenols.
Here are some other dietary equivalents for 1,000 mg of polyphenols:
• 60 bowls of cooked broccoli
• 5 cups of blueberries
• six to seven apples
• 6 cups of green tea
• 20 red onions
• 7 ounces of pecans
Eating a healthy and colorful diet is important for preventing the damage associated with the aging process, but polyphenols can also be taken as supplements. This can be important for people wanting to boost their intake, but also for people who have a limited diet that does not contain ample fruits and vegetables. Some of the most powerful and clinically studied polyphenols are curcumin from turmeric, grape seed, propolis (collected from plants by bees), apples and green tea.
Curcumin, the key polyphenol from the turmeric plant rhizome, is what gives the spice a brilliant orange color. Curcumin is one of the most clinically studied herbal medicines in the world, with more than 20,000 studies archived in the electronic database of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) available at PubMed.gov.
When one considers the three most important factors that promote age-related changes, they include chronic inflammation, oxidative stress/free radicals and exposure to toxins, both natural and synthetic. Curcumin addresses all three areas. Curcumin is perhaps the most powerful anti-inflammatory compound from any plant. Curcumin is a super potent antioxidant. And curcumin promotes liver detoxification by promoting hepatic cellular regeneration and bile production. It is an anti-aging superstar that can address a multitude of chronic diseases and the aging process itself.
In order to get the most powerful benefits, curcumin must have enhanced absorption. There are several methods to achieve this, but beware, as some are using synthetic solvents to boost numbers, and that is problematic. I prefer enhancement methods that are clinically studied and from nature, not a chemistry set.
Grape Seed Extract
Grape seed is perhaps best known for preventing and treating various aspects of heart disease, because it addresses many concerns simultaneously. It protects blood vessel walls from free radical damage and prevents the dangerous oxidation of LDL cholesterol, which contributes to atherosclerotic plaque. It improves the flexibility of the blood vessel, and reduces blood pressure, which, in turn, reduces wear and tear on the heart.
The heavy lifter in grape seed are polyphenols called oligomeric proanthocyanins, or OPCs. In a randomized, double-blind placebo-controlled study, 300 mg of grape seed extract with OPCs significantly reduced blood pressure in a few weeks. In scientific studies, it has been shown to strengthen the structure of joints and bones. In cancer research, OPCs have been found to shrink tumor cells and prevent tumor recurrence.
The OPCs from grape seed extract have even been shown to improve memory, attention span and concentration.
However, OPCs do not absorb equally—only those of the smallest size can fit through the doors in our intestines. The large size OPCs are called tannins. Tannins are not dangerous, but they do not absorb. It is important to look for a tannin-free source of OPCs, which have a low-molecular weight and are easily absorbed. Tannin-free OPCs from grape seed extract have been used in a number of published scientific studies, especially relating to antioxidant strength and cancer.
Propolis is a plant material collected by bees and transported back to the hive to protect their home from contamination with microbes. Propolis is rich in compounds that have anti-bacterial and anti-viral actions that help preserve the health of the hive. When propolis is filtered to remove beeswax and other impurities, it becomes a concentrated source of flavonoids and phenolic acids. Clinical studies have shown that propolis reduces both the duration and severity of ear infections. It has been shown to prevent recurrent ear infection or development of related upper respiratory tract infections. It is effective against antibiotic resistant bacteria, including methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), and Streptococcus pyogenes. It is even an antifungal that can treat Candida albicans overgrowth.
Propolis protects our cell’s DNA from free radical damage. Oxidative stress creates free radicals, which in turn can damage the blueprint of our DNA. If there are enough problems with the DNA, abnormal cells result, which promote cancer and other diseases. Accumulation of DNA damage is also a significant part of the aging process.
Apples are excellent sources of a number of polyphenols. When used in a supplement, apple polyphenols are usually extracted from unripe apples, because that is when they achieve their highest concentration in the fruit.
Polyphenols from apples improve physical endurance, reduce fatigue, play a role in reducing visceral fat, and improve cholesterol balance. Apples contain compounds that are effective for reducing allergies and have been shown to reduce allergic sinus congestion. Apple polyphenols, combined with saffron and grape seed extract, have been shown in published studies to increase nitric oxide (NO) production. NO is required for vasodilation, meaning it can improve blood flow throughout the body and reduce blood pressure. This is important, as NO production can make a measurable difference in heart and brain health, as well as improve men’s sexual performance.
I would hazard a guess that green tea is the healthiest widely consumed beverage in the world. Much of green tea’s health benefits are attributed to the polyphenol content. Epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG), the most well-known green tea polyphenol, has been used in a number of studies, especially in cancer and cancer prevention. Cancer researchers discovered that EGCG from green tea promotes and preserves one of the body’s natural anti-cancer proteins called p53, so it can make daily repairs to DNA and stop tumors before they start.
Green tea polyphenols reduce the damage to the skin from sun exposure and UV radiation. As well as increasing collagen production in the skin. For this reason, it is often included in beauty-from-within types of products.
Polyphenols from green tea have a multitude of benefits, such as improving brain function, helping to prevent Alzheimer’s, and fighting infections. Polyphenols = Better Health and Longevity
Increasing the amount and diversity of polyphenols you ingest daily is probably the most powerful thing you can do as part of your foundational health. These amazing compounds from the world of plants increase strength, staminal, brain function, immune resistance, heart power, focus, mood, liver detoxification processes . . . the list could continue for another page or more. Using supplements to increase your polyphenol intake to more than 1,000 mg a day makes sense in a world where we all want to live young—to a very old age. VR
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Cheryl Myers is an integrative health nurse, author, and an expert on natural medicine. She is a nationally recognized speaker who has been interviewed by the New York Times, Wall Street Journal and Prevention magazine. Her many articles have been published in such diverse journals as Aesthetic Surgery Journal and Nutrition in Complementary Care, and her research on botanicals has been presented at the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology and the North American Menopause Society. Myers is the head of scientific affairs and education for EuroPharma, Inc.
• 5 cups of blueberries
• six to seven apples
• 6 cups of green tea
• 20 red onions
• 7 ounces of pecans