Polyphenols are emerging in the performance world as potent anti-inflammatories that can enhance the natural processes of recovery, healing, performance, and may be linked with lower risk of inflammatory diseases. In this article, I’ll cover the sources, potential benefits, and any downsides of natural plant-based polyphenols:
Polyphenols are a class of natural plant-based antioxidants. Due to their chemical structure, polyphenols are some of the most potent anti-inflammatory antioxidants found in nature.
Polyphenols fall under the broad class of phytochemicals called phenolic acids. Specific types of polyphenols include:
The reason why you need polyphenols has to do with their systemic antioxidant function. Their multi-ringed chemical structure makes them extraordinarily effective at trapping and neutralizing damaging free-radicals. Fewer free-radicals means less oxidative stress and less inflammation, which leads to better health overall and reduced risk of chronic diseases.
Another, even more powerful, role of polyphenols lies in their ability to alter the way your genetics are expressed. Each specific polyphenol is different, but they all share an ability to ramp up anti-inflammatory pathways at the source: your genetic code. Polyphenols can send a signal to your cells to start making anti-inflammatory, anti-oxidant, and detoxification proteins.
Take the golden spice for example: turmeric is not a polyphenol itself, but contains one of the single most powerful polyphenols, curcumin, alongside dozens of others. The research shows that even though curcumin may be the workhorse of the group ー largely responsible for turmeric’s cancer-fighting, heart-healthy, and gut-promoting effects ー its effect synergizes with the other polyphenols in turmeric. That means that the combined anti-inflammatory effect is even larger than what you would see by adding up all the individual polyphenols.
The biochemistry of polyphenols is complex, but the effects are simple: better health.
The benefits of some polyphenols aren’t clear-cut: their effect depends on the dose. Take tannins for example, which you can taste in the bitter husk of a peanut, the astringent peel of a fruit, or the mouth-puckering flavor of dry red wine.
In high doses, tannins can have anti-nutrient effects like reducing mineral absorption and they can stress your liver and kidney’s detoxification pathways. Low levels, on the other hand, send a signal to these detox systems to ramp up detoxification pathways in excess of what’s necessary to get rid of the outside chemical. This effect, called “hormesis”, means that low doses of these types of polyphenols actually have significant positive effects, even though high doses are considered toxic.
Generally speaking, whether polyphenols are anti-inflammatory or pro-inflammatory depends on the dose. Polyphenols in food-level doses are safe, nontoxic, and regarded as good for your health.
The most significant benefit of polyphenols is their antioxidant and anti-inflammatory function. All polyphenols are antioxidants by definition, and so all polyphenols have some degree of anti-inflammatory action.
More and more research has pointed to inflammation as the unifying link between almost all chronic diseases. Targeting inflammation isn’t necessarily going to stop disease ー after all, you do need manageable levels of controlled inflammation to survive ー but the list of why you should eat polyphenols continues to grow:
Polyphenols don’t directly cause you to lose weight, but they can help indirectly:
With so many benefits, you probably want to know what you can eat to get the most for your money. Foods high in polyphenols are commonly called superfoods. The most concentrated sources of polyphenols are some of the healthiest foods on the planet:
If you want to increase your polyphenol intake, I have the perfect resource for you. My ebook “Recover Every Layer of Your Body” harnesses the science of polyphenols, vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and phytochemicals in recipe after delicious recipe that will take your health to the next level.
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Unlike other nutrients, there is no official recommended daily intake for polyphenols. The USDA recommends five servings of fruits and vegetables per day for optimal health, so the average level of polyphenols could be taken as an estimated baseline level.
From this perspective, one researcher estimates that a typical healthy diet provides 1000 milligrams or more polyphenols from food in a day ー that could be a reasonable target to shoot for.
Polyphenols often come from what you drink too. Another researcher estimated that Americans get an additional 1000 mg of polyphenols per day just from coffee, tea, and wine!
Specific polyphenols do specific things though, so it might be better to break down the number of polyphenols you need in a day into categories supported by research: blueberry polyphenols for cognitive benefits, green tea polyphenols for skin health and gut health, cocoa (chocolate) polyphenols for heart health, fruit polyphenols for exercise performance… the list goes on. Eat some of these foods on a regular basis and you’re setting yourself up for long-term health!
Too many polyphenols is possible. Some polyphenols like tannins work as anti-nutrients at high doses, even though they’re powerful anti-inflammatories at normal doses.
The best study to look at overdose-levels of polyphenols showed that 200 mg of green tea polyphenols per 1 kg of body weight per day resulted in weight loss, elevated markers of liver damage, organ dysfunction, and other adverse effects in dogs.
To put that into perspective, 200mg/kg/day for an average 175-pound person would be the equivalent of 16,000 mg of polyphenols per day. That’s eight times what you would typically get from a healthy diet. Unless you’re eating the pit of your avocado or taking high-dose supplements, it’s unlikely to eat that high of a level of polyphenols.
Although supplementing with polyphenols could be beneficial, excessive supplementation with anything will result in negative effects.
Start by getting your polyphenols from whole foods. The list of polyphenol-rich superfoods above should get you started. Just drinking green tea or eating extra dark chocolate can give you a big polyphenol boost; eating fruit and vegetables everyday will make sure you’re consistently getting a range of benefits.
Doses used in research studies are in the 200-400mg range, which suggests that even for the performance and recovery enhancing benefits, you don’t need to go overboard.
If you feel like you would benefit from supplemental polyphenols, talk with your healthcare provider, and choose natural supplements derived from full-spectrum extracts of whole foods. Aim to get more polyphenol antioxidants from food sources and then consider lower levels in your supplements until you can determine how they make you feel.
Resync products contain powerful antioxidant polyphenols. The newest drink to join our line ー Resync Beverage ー contains 200 mg of phenolic antioxidants from high-quality ingredients in every can of this one-of-a-kind drink. Vitamin C, beta-glucan, inulin, and aronia berry extract, red beetroot extract, red spinach extract add some powerful benefits for your energy, immune system, gut health, and heart health. These ingredients are meant to work together to enhance blood-flow, promote energy and recovery, and fight oxidation with antioxidants, including polyphenols.
Aronia berries are the star of the show. Getting their nickname “chokeberry” for their astringent taste, eaten raw, their mouth-puckering flavor may take some time to get used to. Fortunately that strong flavor indicates that they are a potent source of polyphenol antioxidants.
Compared to every other superfood out there, aronia berry has the most powerful antioxidant capacity of any natural food, it is a dense source of phenolic compounds with an extremely high content of anti-inflammatory anthocyanins and a rich source of vitamin C and natural nitrates as well. Aronia is the superfood of superfoods. Aronia has been studied to:
Resync Beverage is a delicious source of antioxidants, natural nitrates, and fiber making it a nutritional powerhouse that will serve your health like no other sparkling beverage.
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Written by Barbara Depta and registered dietitian, Detrick Snyder, MPH, RDN. Updated on 5/3/2021.
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