Unveiling the Power of Polyphenols: Can They Improve Gut Health?

Written by Clare Gibson  

Published on October 16, 2023

Ever wondered if your plate could be the secret weapon for a resilient gut? Spoiler alert: it can! In this guide, we're pulling back the curtain on polyphenols – the hidden gem for improving your gut health. From their mysterious origins to the different types that add flair to your diet, we're on a mission to uncover the secrets of polyphenols and show you just how great they can be. 

What Are Polyphenols?

Polyphenols are a diverse group of naturally occurring compounds found in plants. They are characterized by the presence of multiple phenol structural units, and their classification includes flavonoids, phenolic acids, polyphenolic amides, and other complex structures. The intricate chemistry of polyphenols is what contributes to their myriad health benefits.

Types of Polyphenols

1. Flavonoids

  • Flavonols: Found in onions, leeks, broccoli, and kale.
  • Flavan-3-ols: Abundant in green tea, apples, and grapes.
  • Flavones: Present in parsley, celery, and chamomile tea.
  • Isoflavones: Predominantly found in soy products.

2. Phenolic Acids

  • Benzoic Acids: Found in cranberries and cinnamon
  • Cinnamic Acids: Abundant in coffee and blueberries

3. Other Polyphenols

  • Lignans: Present in seeds, particularly flaxseeds.
  • Stilbenes: Resveratrol in red wine 

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What Foods Contain Polyphenols? 

Polyphenols are widely distributed in various plant-based foods, and incorporating a diverse range of these items into your diet ensures exposure to different polyphenol profiles.

 

Common sources include:

  • Fruits: Berries, apples, citrus fruits, and grapes and pomegranates.
  • Vegetables: Spinach, broccoli, onions, and artichokes.
  • Tea: Green tea, black tea, and herbal teas.
  • Coffee: A rich source of chlorogenic acid, a type of phenolic acid.
  • Whole Grains: Particularly oats and whole wheat.
  • Nuts and Seeds: Almonds, walnuts, flaxseeds, and chia seeds.
  • Dark Chocolate: High cocoa content provides a dose of flavonoids.

Can Polyphenols Improve Gut Health? 

The short answer: Yes! 

Polyphenols and Dysbiosis 

A healthy gut microbiome is characterized by a delicate balance between beneficial and harmful bacteria. Dysbiosis, an imbalance in this microbial community, is associated with various digestive issues such as bloating, food sensitivities and SIBO. So how do polyphenols help to regulate the bacteria in your gut? 

  1. Targeting Harmful Bacteria:  Polyphenols possess antimicrobial properties that specifically target and eliminate harmful bacteria in the gut. This action helps restore balance and prevent the overgrowth of detrimental microbes, a common precursor to digestive discomfort.
  2. Nourishing Beneficial Bacteria: At the same time, polyphenols act as prebiotic fibre, providing essential sustenance for beneficial bacteria, and promoting their growth and activity. This dual function ensures a harmonious microbial community that supports optimal gut function.

Polyphenols and Inflammation

Polyphenols have been shown to help mitigate inflammation, by regulating the body’s inflammation signalling pathways, and by acting as free radical scavengers. Let us explain!

 

Modulating Cytokines

Polyphenols possess the ability to modulate the production and activity of pro-inflammatory cytokines, such as interleukins and tumour necrosis factor-alpha (TNF-α). This modulation helps dampen the inflammatory response, keeping inflammation at bay in the gut and body. 

 

Free Radical Scavenging

Acting as powerful antioxidants, polyphenols work to neutralise free radicals in the body, helping to counteract oxidative stress. In the gut, this protective mechanism is crucial for maintaining the integrity of the gastrointestinal tract, preventing cellular damage, and supporting overall gut health.

What Are The Best Ways to Consume More Polyphenols? 

Elevate your polyphenol game with these simple yet effective tips:

 

Use More Herbs and Spices: Infuse your meals with flavour and health by using a variety of herbs and spices like parsley, rosemary, oregano, and cinnamon.

 

Keep the Skins And Peels On: Retain valuable polyphenols by leaving the skins on your fruits and vegetables. We promise you won’t even know the difference! 

 

Choose Whole Foods: Opt for nutrient-dense whole foods like oats, quinoa, almonds, and flaxseeds. Unprocessed choices maximize your polyphenol intake.

 

Mindful Cooking Prep: Preserve polyphenols during cooking by adopting methods like steaming, roasting, and sautéing. Avoid overcooking or boiling for optimal retention.

 

Embrace a Colorful Diet: Amplify polyphenols by incorporating a spectrum of colours in your diet. Berries, dark leafy greens, and vibrant peppers offer both visual appeal and nutritional richness.

Where To From Here? 

So to answer to the question of whether polyphenols benefit gut health, is a resounding yes! These naturally occurring compounds found in plants possess a remarkable ability to enhance gut microbiome diversity, promote balanced bacterial growth, and mitigate inflammation, all of which contribute to optimal digestive function and overall well-being. Start incorporating more today! 

References:

 

Hussain T, Tan B, Yin Y, Blachier F, Tossou MCB, Rahu N. Oxidative stress and inflammation: What polyphenols can do for us? Oxid Med Cell Longev. 2016;2016:7432797.

 

Manso, T., Lores, M., & de Miguel, T. (2021). Antimicrobial Activity of Polyphenols and Natural Polyphenolic Extracts on Clinical Isolates. Antibiotics (Basel, Switzerland), 11(1), 46. https://doi.org/10.3390/antibiotics11010046

 

Roudsari NM, Lashgari N-A, Momtaz S, Farzaei MH, Marques AM, Abdolghaffari. Natural polyphenols for the prevention of irritable bowel syndrome: molecular mechanisms and targets; a comprehensive review. Daru. 2019;27(2):755–80.

 

Yahfoufi N, Alsadi N, Jambi M, Matar C. The immunomodulatory and anti-inflammatory role of polyphenols. Nutrients. 2018;10(11):1618.

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