Bioflavonoids are those magic molecules that promise, in theory at least, eternal youth. These plant pigments were first identified while investigating the French Paradox. The French are known both for their rich (and excellent) food and smoking cigarettes (perhaps not so tasty), but surprisingly their people have low rates of heart disease.
It turns out that drinking red wine, a way of life in France, may just be the antidote for fast living. Red wine has lots of bioflavonoids, which are wonderful molecules that are full of beneficial properties. Since these compounds are pigments, it’s no coincidence that they are found in dark things – dark wine, berries, beer, chocolate, coffee and tea.
Why should we care about bioflavonoids? Because like Vitamin C, they are antioxidants, only stronger. The theory is that oxygen, while absolutely essential for life, also ages us, kind of like rust ages a car.
This can be studied on a molecular level that goes like this: oxidative stress on the cell produces free radicals that can damage cell molecules (like DNA) and ultimately can kill the cell. Antioxidants neutralize the free radicals and keep them out of mischief.
Free radicals are believed to be involved in many disease processes. Cancer is one of the most feared of human conditions. Free radical-induced broken DNA has been implicated by some scientists as part the process of cancer cell transformation from normal cells. DNA is precious stuff and we don’t want it damaged.
Next on the worry list is cardiovascular disease. Free radicals are believed to be partly responsible for the oxidation of cholesterol, which causes plaque or blockages in the arteries. So free radicals can make you old, give you cancer, and cause heart attacks. Somebody should do something about them!
We may have already found the answer in bioflavonoids. They are potent, free radical scavengers that reduce oxidative stress on the cell and also possess anti-inflammatory properties. Chronic inflammation has recently gotten some press as part of the process of atherosclerosis. The C-reactive protein test, as you may have heard, is a measure of inflammation and cardiac risk. Both would at least theoretically be improved by generous amounts of bioflavonoids in the diet.
In the lab, bioflavonoids are quite impressive. At high concentrations bioflavonoids are more potent antioxidants than Vitamin C or Vitamin E. All this free radical neutralizing and anti-inflammatory activity is principally shown in the laboratory experiments. The trouble is you can’t get these kinds of bioflavonoid concentrations in the human body. Bioflavonoids are in fact poorly absorbed by the intestinal tract and are quickly cleared from the system.
Despite being amazing in the lab, bioflavonoids have mixed reviews in the body. Diets rich in bioflavonoids don’t show significant measurable antioxidant activity, at least that we’ve been able to measure.
Dietary studies looking at the big picture have been a little more optimistic. Foods rich in bioflavonoids like berries, beans and fruit, have shown some protective value in patients with increased risk of cancer-like smokers. Green tea drinkers have recently been seen as aging better in terms of less disability and dementia.
There is little disagreement that natural sources of bioflavonoids like fruits, vegetables, beans, red wine, and green tea are good for you and promote longevity. Of course, there is a lot of good stuff in there besides bioflavonoids. We just haven’t had much luck at putting those things in pill form yet. If you want the real benefit, you just need to eat and drink the stuff.
With that in mind, more red wine and dark chocolate (picture me toasting) for everyone!