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Polyphenols for Brain Health

Posted by Manuela Boyle on 12 January 2022
Polyphenols for Brain Health

One group of nutrients found in plant food may be important to our brain health. These are called polyphenols, a large family of molecules that includes rutin, quercetin, and resveratrol, among many others.

Polyphenols are found in high concentrations in colourful fruits and vegetables.

Polyphenols might improve brain health. These included many immune-related pathways, as well as the potential to improve memory, learning, and general cognition.

The challenge of feeding a growing population and consequent development of unsustainable industrial and agricultural practices have contributed to degradation of the environment, which negatively impacts the growth of food plants. Threats to food plants may come from living things (insects, invasive plant species, etc.) or from damaging weather and soil conditions. Many plants have genetically adapted to these stresses by producing phytonutrients that aid their growth, defence, and reproduction.

This is how it works:
? Stressed plants synthesise higher levels of various polyphenolic phytonutrients that reduce oxidative damage, cause them to taste more bitter, or improve their resistance to drought, heat, soil salinity, and other suboptimal living circumstances. When external conditions improve, plants can reallocate their resources towards greater growth.

? This ability to self-protect with polyphenols has guided the cooperative evolution of plants as well as the humans and other living things that eat food plants. Environmental stresses alter the genetic expression of proteins that help plants synthesize polyphenols that alter immune offences and defences in plants as well as their consumers. This may partly account for the health benefits of plant-based diets and high intakes of fruits and vegetables. Studying how phytonutrients affect plant growth may also encourage the evolution of sustainable agricultural practices that optimise crop yields.

? This review addresses the roles of specific polyphenolic phytonutrients in guarding plants against the effects of heat and cold stress, heavy metal pollution, drought, plant predation, and competition from invasive plants. The authors describe how these polyphenols promote healthy organ function in humans by influencing immune function, cell signalling, metabolism, and stress response and antioxidant response pathways.

Vauzour D. (2012). Dietary polyphenols as modulators of brain functions: biological actions and molecular mechanisms underpinning their beneficial effects. Oxidative medicine and cellular longevity, 2012, 914273. https://doi.org/10.1155/2012/914273

Author:Manuela Boyle
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  • The Institute for Functional Medicine
  • Society for Integrative Oncology
  • Naturopaths and Herbalists Association of Australia
  • Australian Traditional-Medicine Society
  • British Naturopathic Association