Phytochemicals, Nature's Wondrous Chemicals!
Sep 26, 2009 - 7:31:45 PM
(HealthNewsDigest.com) - Everything in or world that exists is made up of chemicals, and this week let's take a look at one type of nature's chemicals, phytochemicals that is! What exactly are phytochemicals?
Phytochemicals are plant chemicals that have protective or disease fighting properties. While phyto's are grouped together by their properties, there are more than a thousand known individual phyto's. These natural chemicals are produced by plants to protect themselves from disease and predators such as insects, etc., which is an amazing example of biological evolution, and survival of the fittest! The good news for us humans is that research has demonstrated that they can protect us against disease as well. Phytochemicals are not categorized as nutrients because they are not required by the human body for sustaining life, supplying energy or nourishment. So, how do they help us? Here is the breakdown of action that research has demonstrated.
Antioxidant. Most phytochemicals have antioxidant activity, which protect our cells against oxidative damage (Ever hear of free radicals?). This type of action reduces the risk of developing certain types of cancer.
Hormonal. Some phytochemicals such as those found in soy foods imitate human estrogens, blocking the action of our own hormones. These type of phyto's are known as phytoestrogens, which help to reduce menopausal symptoms, interfere with hormonal driven cancers and possibly reduce osteoporosis.
Enzyme Stimulation Phyto's such as Indoles found in cruciferous veggies like cabbage, stimulate enzymes that make estrogen less effective possibly reducing the risk for breast cancer. Other phytochemicals, which interfere with enzymes, are called protease inhibitors (soy and beans), terpenes (citrus fruits and cherries) reducing risk for disease.
Disruption of DNA Replication of Cancer Cells. Legumes contain Saponins, phyto's that for instance, interfere with the replication of cell DNA, preventing the multiplication of cancer cells. Capsaicin, another phyto found in hot peppers, protects DNA from carcinogens.
Physical Blockage Some phytochemicals actually physically bind to cell walls preventing the adhesion of pathogens to human cell walls. Proanthocyanidins are responsible for the anti-adhesion properties of cranberries blocking bacteria from sticking to our cells. Eating cranberries can reduce the risk of urinary tract infections, an example of anti-bacterial action!
So, aside from helping us to prevent cancer, research has been mounting that plant -based foods including fruits, vegetables, whole grains and herbs, help to protect us from heart disease, metabolic diseases such as diabetes, possibly bacterial infections, and inflammatory diseases to name a few wondrous things. And of course, if we prepare and eat our plant foods using low fat methods, we can lose weight to boot. I recommend "A Salad a Day" featured in my up coming book, whether we eat one for lunch or for dinner, which can help us to "up" our consumption of veggies (I'm referring to an entree type salad).
We discussed adding more color to our life last week, and I hope this week you learned more about why. Here again is a great website for more info on fruits and veggies by season http://www.fruitsandveggiesmorematters.org/?page_id=674 and here's one to find a local farmer's market in your area http://www.localharvest.org/farmers-markets/
Aren't Plants Wonderful?
June M Lay M.S.
Want to read more credible info about phyto's? Go to http://www.eatright.org/cps/rde/xchg/ada/hs.xsl/login_search_ENU_HTML.htm?dosearch=1&search=phytochemicals&x=12&y=6
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June is Lifestyle Columnist at www.healthnewsdigest.com/
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