Have you ever stopped to appreciate what amazing things plants are? They must feed themselves, reproduce, protect themselves from the elements and fend off animals, insects and microbes, all without being able to move. They have no muscles, bones and brains to get any of this done. So how do they survive? They are chemical manufacturing plants, quite literally. They produce phytochemicals which are chemical compounds that perform a myriad of functions. It should be no surprise then that many of these phytochemicals and polyphenols are very good for us. They do everything from fighting cancer to fighting UV radiation from the sun to fighting bacteria, fungus and viruses. Let’s take a look at some of plants most amazing polyphenols.
Benzoic acid is found in many plants and animals but is highly concentrated in gum benzoin and berries such as raspberries, strawberries, cranberries and pomegranates. It has strong antifungal properties and is used in ointments combating athlete’s foot and ringworm (known as tinea). It is also used as a food preservative because it helps to prevent the growth of yeast, mold and bacteria.
Gallic acid can occur either as part of a tannin molecule or as a free molecule. It is found in almost all plants, but is found in high concentrations in grapes, witch hazel, tea, evening primrose oil, pomegranate seed oil, and mango butter. Gallic acid has anti-inflammatory, anti-fungal and anti-viral properties and it acts as an antioxidant to protect our cells from free radicals. Studies have shown that gallic acid can cause cancer cells to self-destruct while not causing any damage to normal cells. It is an excellent wound healer and may have use in the treatment of psoriasis and hemorrhoids.
Ellagic acid, also known as benzoaric acid, is produced by plants in order to protect themselves against pests and microbial infection. It is found in berries and red fruits including pomegranates, strawberries, raspberries, cranberries and some nuts such as walnuts and pecans. Ellagic acid is a potent antioxidant protecting cells from oxidative damage, but its real strength has been found in its anti-cancer properties. Research has shown that ellagic acid can interrupt the cycle of cancer cell development by binding with them and making them inactive. It has been shown to have anti-cancer effects on a wide range of cancers including: skin, prostate, pancreas, colon, breast and esophageal. There is also some evidence that ellagic acid offers protection against some chemically induced cancers.
Rosmarini acid is found in large quantities in rosemary, lemon balm, sage, oregano, thyme and peppermint. Rosmarinic acid has antimicrobial, antioxidant, and anti-inflammatory properties. Its antioxidant activity is considered to be even stronger than that of vitamin e. As an anti-inflammatory it helps to reduce the appearance of find lines and wrinkles and behaves like an alpha-hydroxy acid (AHA).
Cinnamic acid is found in cinnamon oil and shea butter and has a honey-like odor. It is another powerful antioxidant and also has UV protective properties. It can also behave like an alpha hydroxy acid by penetrating the skin and assisting with cell regeneration.
Ferulic acid is found in the seeds of plants such as in rice, soybean, sesame, wheat, and oats, as well as in borage oil, coconut oil, and acai. It is a powerful antioxidant and protects our cells from free radical damage. It also would be a good addition to sunscreens as ferulic acid not only protects our cells from UV light damage, but ultraviolet light actually increases the potency of ferulic acid. Ferulic acid also has shown anticancer promise and may lead cancer cells to self destruct. Topical application of ferulic acid may reduce oxidative stress in skin.
Caffeic acid is found in all plants because it is a key component of the formation of lignin, an integral part of plant cell wall structure. It is one of the strongest antioxidants known to man and therefore does a great job of protecting cells against free radical damage. It has been shown to have anti-cancer properties including shrinking tumors. Plants that are particularly high in caffeic acid include coconut oil, soybeans, and mango butter. Tests have shown that caffeic acid protects cells against both UVC and UVB ultraviolet radiation. It has also shown promise as an anti-fungal remedy.
Coumarins are found in many plants including tonka beans, coconuts, cinnamon, lavender, and sweet clover. It is quite fragrant and smells like vanilla or freshly cut hay. It appears to work as a pesticide in the plants that produce it and also has appetite suppressing effects. It is believed that this is to reduce the destructive impact of foraging animals. The quicker they fill up, the quicker they move on and stop grazing. Coumarin is interesting in that it’s both toxic and has medicinal uses. It is moderately toxic to humans when ingested in large amounts, but very toxic to rats. Benefits of coumarin range from anti-cancer to anti-fungicidal to anti-inflammatory to antioxidant properties. But it thins the blood and should not be used by people on anticoagulants. Coumarins are a positive addition to sunscreens as they are able to block out short wave UV rays while allowing the long wave UV rays in. These long wave rays are the ones that give us a beautiful tan.
Quercetin is a flavonoid found widely throughout nature. Foods rich in quercetin include: tomatoes, green tea, red onions, olive oil, grapeseed oil, berries, sea buckthorn, apples, mango butter, and broccoli to name a few. Preliminary research has shown anticancer, antiviral, and anti-inflammatory benefits.
Rutin is a flavonoid that is similar to quercetin. It is also found widely throughout nature although the richest source is buckwheat. Other sources of rutin include citrus fruits and berries. It is an anti-inflammatory and antioxidant and also offers UVA protection.