Delving Deeper Into the Meaning and Phenomenon of Phytochemicals
Have you ever wondered where does garlic gets its smell from or how blueberries are such seductive deep purple? The answers to these questions lie in phytochemicals, the non- nutritive plant chemicals which occur naturally in plants. Though they are not classified under essential nutrients (i.e. not required by the human body for sustaining life), yet they have encroached a lot of significance, especially in pharmaceuticals, due to their protective or disease preventive properties. There are 4,000 different types of phytochemicals known to us presently.
Though these chemicals have been known to be of significance importance mainly to plants till now (since plants produce these chemicals to protect themselves), yet recent researches have shown that they can be very useful for protecting humans against diseases. This has given a very good opportunity for pharmaceutical companies for approaching the problem of health in a new and a more effective dimension.
The Mechanism of Phytochemicals and how do they work?
Phytochemicals have originated from “phyto” a Greek term implying plants. They provide varied organoleptic properties to plants- color, odor, flavor etc. Some phytochemicals are known to provide immense physiological benefits like stronger immunity and improved thyroid hormone metabolism.
1) Anti-bacterial properties- Garlic is reputed because of its anti-bacterial properties but few are aware that this is present due to the phytochemical allicin. However, after cooking garlic, it does not retain allicin thus losing its anti-bacterial qualities.
2) Stimulating the enzymes and thus preventing diseases- Indoles, widely found in cabbages stimulate enzymes which makes estrogen less effective and thus may be instrumental in reducing the risk of breast cancer.
3) Physiological and physical benefits- Cranberry contains anti-adhesion properties due to presence of phytochemicals Proanthocyanidins which not only improves dental health but also reduces the risk of urinary tract infections.
4) Antioxidant benefits- Many phytochemicals are reported to have these benefits and thus reduce the risk of developing certain types of cancers by protecting our cells against oxidative damage.
5) Help to regulate hormones- Isoflavens imitate human estrogens and reduce menopausal symptoms. They are found largely in soy.
6) Prevent DNA damage, help with DNA repair and ease DNA replication- Saponins, which are found in beans prevent multiplication of cancer cells by interfering in the replication of cell DNA.
7) They block the substance we consume from becoming carcinogens- Capsaicin, available in hot peppers, prevent DNA from carcinogens.
8) Some phytochemicals trigger damaged cells to commit suicide before they can reproduce.
9) Inhibiting inflammation and tumor growth- flavanoids present in apple, onion and citrus fruits boost immunity and might also prevent growth of tumor cells.
Consumption of phytochemicals
To receive maximum benefits from phytochemicals, it is advised to consume at least 5-9 servings of fruits and vegetables. Make sure to include all varieties of fruits and vegetables in your diet.
Image Source: http://www1.msjc.edu/hs/nutr100/nutr100_section3a.html
(c) Mind Pickles 2016