You might have heard of “phytonutrients” and how good they are for overall health. But what exactly are phytonutrients and why are they absolutely vital for preventing disease and maintaining vital health in this modern world?
Why We Need Phytonutrients Today
Phytonutrients give plants their color as well as their distinct taste and smell. They can also be thought of as part of the plant’s “immune system;” they help protect the plant from predators like bugs and fungi.
Fortunately, phytonutrients in plants are designed to help humans too. As antioxidants, they protect us from oxidative damage caused by environmental pollutants in our air, water, and food, as well as stressful lifestyle choices. Across the board, experts agree that the best way to get sufficient antioxidants is through consuming them in whole foods, as opposed to getting them in synthetic supplement form.
According to a 2014 analysis published in the Journal of Complimentary and Integrative Medicine:
Phytonutrients are the plant nutrients with specific biological activities that support human health…They [have] specific pharmacological effects in human health such as anti-microbial, anti-oxidants, anti-inflammatory, antiallergic, anti-spasmodic, anti-cancer, anti-aging, hepatoprotective, hypolipidemic, neuroprotective, hypotensive, diabetes, osteoporosis, CNS stimulant, analgesic, protection from UVB-induced carcinogenesis, immuno-modulator, and carminative.
There is no doubt that more toxins in our air, food, and water as well as massive global soil depletion has left our bodies starving for natural substances that can help us detoxify and heal. A meta-analysis conducted by the University of Texas studied 43 common vegetables and fruits grown in the U.S. between 1950 and 1999. They discovered “reliable declines” in nutrients of all kinds in everything from corn to carrots. According to some nutritional experts, it now takes over 25 cups of today’s spinach to equal the nutrient density of one cup from 1950.
To get the most nutrient-dense produce for your dinner table, always make sure that the fruits and vegetables you buy are organic and non-GMO. If you have a farmer’s market in your region, consider making a visit. Talk to the farm representative and ask about their growing practices before you buy. And whenever possible, go for heirloom varieties of produce such as carrots, corn, and squash; studies have shown that the nutrient density of locally-produced heirloom varieties are significantly higher than more typical types, even if they are organic.
The Many Faces of Phytonutrients
Believe it or not, conventional medicine does not consider phytonutrients as essential for human health – even though there are over 13,000 studies registered with the National Institutes of Health having to do with their benefits for health (including 2,500 cancer studies!). In addition, approximately 40% of the conventional medicines currently in use are based on plant substances.
YOU don’t have to be fooled by the backwards thinking of the allopathic medical model, however. Phytonutrients are vital for health overall, and may even prevent and heal specific conditions. Below is a listing of the most common types, where they can be found, and what their benefits can be for health.
Carotenoids. The most recognizable kind of carotenoid is beta-carotene. Carrots and kale are among the plants with the highest amounts of beta-carotene. Beta-carotene has been found to reduce the risk of certain cancers, especially lung cancer, and can be beneficial for eye health as well.
Another important benefit of beta-carotene is that it eventually converts to vitamin A, which plays an important role in reproductive, brain, and immune system health. The most recent evidence of this appeared in a May 2017 study conducted by Johns Hopkins University Bangladesh, which found that vitamin A supplementation significantly boosted scholastic achievement in school children.
Phytoestrogens. Contrary to popular belief, there is nothing to fear from healthy natural sources of mild estrogen − and that goes for the mild “estrogen-mimicking” effects found in phytoestrogens as well. This is because plant-based phytoestrogens help flush out Xenoestrogens, highly aggressive estrogens that are created in the body by foreign toxins. Phytoestrogens populate estrogen receptor sites with the mildest form of estrogen (mostly estriol). With no place to go, Xenoestrogens are flushed out of the body. Plant-based phytoestrogens are found in flax and legumes, among other plants.
Flavonoids. There are over 6,000 identified kinds of flavonoids within plants, including quercetin, kaempferol, and catechins. All flavonoids contain the ability to very effectively scavenge free radicals from the body. They are also known for their anti-inflammatory effects. Quercetin in particular has been connected to lower inflammation, a reduction in allergies, heart health, cancer prevention, and pain relief in several studies.
Resveratrol. Resveratrol is a super-high antioxidant that can be found in brightly colored fruits and vegetables, especially in berries and grapes. Resveratrol has many health benefits, including helping with cardiovascular health. Perhaps the most significant benefit, however, is its cancer-protective properties, in particular the effect it appears to have on cancer stem cells. Stem cells are like “blank slates” that can lay the foundation for many different kinds of cancers. They play a big role in cancer metastasis and, unfortunately, traditional cancer treatments have no effect on them. Research conducted in 2011 at Southern Illinois University School of Medicine found that resveratrol was able to induce cancer stem cell death through effecting lipid synthesis.
Terpenes. Terpenes are what produce aromas in fruits and vegetables. Many of these aromatics, which are the main ingredients in essential oils, also have powerful immune-boosting, hormone balancing and anti-inflammatory properties. And some, such as limonene and pinene, have been shown in research studies to promote “cancer cell death.” There are dozens of terpenes found in aromatic plants such as lemons, cilantro, and frankincense.
One of the most important yet little known terpenes for health is myrcene. Myrcene is found in mangos, kumquats, eucalyptus, and lemongrass. A 2012 study conducted at Texas A & M University found myrcene, along with limonene and other terpenes, in kumquats instigated “apoptosis” (i.e. cancer cell death) and also lowered inflammatory markers. Myrcene is also helpful for pain and insomnia and helps to lower blood-brain barrier resistance, which allows other healing substances, such as other phytonutrients, to be absorbed more effectively.
Glucosinolates. Glucosinolates are powerful anti-oxidants and studies have particularly focused on their ability to fight both reproductive cancers (like breast and prostate) as well as endocrine-system imbalances that can lead to thyroid disease and cancer. Glucosinolates are commonly found in cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, cauliflower and cabbage. Sulphoraphane in broccoli sprouts has been proven to be especially cancer-preventative, thanks to the many studies conducted since the mid-1990s by Dr. Paul Talalay of Johns Hopkins University. Sulphoraphane has been shown to target cancer stem cells. In addition, exciting Phase 1 clinical trials studying its effect on sickle cell disease began at Duke University in 2016.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids. Omega-3s are also known as “essential polyunsaturated fatty acids,” or PUFAs. They are needed for healthy digestion as well as for muscle development and activity, maintaining good vision, neurological health (such as good memory), blood clotting, and a host of other functions in the body. Plant-based sources of omega-3 fatty acids include walnuts, flaxseed, and leafy greens. Note that while plant-based omega-3s contain alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), they do not contain DHA and EPA. These are only found in cold water fish.
Probiotics. Probiotics are the “good” bacteria that your digestive tract, immune system, and entire body needs to maintain optimum health and prevent disease. Imbalances in the “gut microbiome” have been connected to autoimmune responses and acute inflammation. Probiotics may even contribute to cancer preventer. A 2016 animal study found that introducing probiotics prior to cancer cell inoculation resulted in a 40% reduction in tumor growth when compared to the control group.
The best way to receive the benefit of plant-based probiotics is to ingest “cultured” or fermented veggies, including raw kimchi, sauerkraut, sour pickles, and olives. Spirulina has shown to boost the growth of healthy probiotics such as L. acidophilus and can be a great counter to the side effects of antibiotics.
Is This Sacred Plant a “Super-Healer” Whose Time Has Come?
Cannabis has been used to successfully prevent, treat, and beat 32+ common diseases, including cancer, arthritis, Alzheimer’s, and more. Here are a few facts to consider about this amazing plant:
- The ancient Chinese medicine practitioners first began using it thousands of years ago.
- It contains many of the phytonutrient types mentioned above, including phytoestrogens, carotenoids, flavonoids, and key terpenes such as myrcene, limonene, and pinene.
- It has been the topic of hundreds of peer-reviewed global studies confirming its effectiveness for everything from macular degeneration and PMS to cancer.
- It contains 8 amino acids, making it a complete protein source.
- It contains key essential minerals like magnesium, folic acid, iron, potassium, riboflavin, niacin, and thiamine.
- When ingested as a whole plant food, it is a great source of fiber.
When will our health institutions wake up to the power of phytonutrients in general, and those found in this healing plant in particular?
The good news is that consumer knowledge is growing. According to a study conducted by the National Institutes for Health, in 2007 close to 40% of adults used some sort of “complementary or alternative medicine (CAM).” Among cancer patients, the average was 31%, with percentages in some countries as high as 64%, according to a St. George’s University, London study that same year. Many of the natural modalities used in CAM involve dietary changes to include more phytonutrient-rich plant substances.