Nutritional Polyphenols - Olives, Grapes and Wine Oh My

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In 1960 Greek men had a 90% less mortality rate from heart disease than that of American men. Their diet? The much maligned Mediterranean Diet with it's low-saturated fats, fatty acid profile and it's rich composition of natural antioxidant compounds known as polyphenols.

Polyphenols are considered the 'backbone' for most of the antioxidants found in plants. The chemical composition of polyphenols is: two six-carbon rings (benzene rings) connected by a chain of three carbons. With the carbon rings are attached various functional groups like oxygen, sulfur, nitrogen and alcohols. The plants in order to protect themselves from insects and various diseases, builds complex phenolic compounds called flavonoids.

These phenols that exhibit characteristics like anti-inflammatory and antiseptic effects are a group of plant constituents that range from sugar-containing phenolic glycosides (such as Cyanidin-3-O-Glucoside) to salicylic acid.

Two types exist:


  • Citrus Flavonoids
  • Procyanidolic Oligomers

Phenolic Compounds

The main source of polyphenol antioxidants is nutritional since a wide array of phytonutrient-bearing foods contains them. This type of antioxidant is characterized by the presence of several phenol functional groups. These compounds, some 4000, are thought to be instrumental in combating oxidative stress. Polyphenols are generally found in high levels of the skin of fruits. Sources of polyphenols include legumes, berries, tea, beer, wine, olive oil, chocolate/cocoa, walnuts, peanuts, yerba mate, and other fruits and vegetables.

Tannins and other polyphenols, found in tea and red wine, can reduce the availability of iron, vitamin B12 and protein by forming chemical complexes with the enzymes needed to metabolize these nutrients.

Some polyphenol antioxidants, such as resveratrol, inhibit occurrence and/or growth of mammalian tumors(1).

(1)M. Jang, L. Cai, G.O. Dean, K.V. Slowing, C.F. Thomas, C.W.W. Beecher , H.H.S. Fong, N.R, Farnsworth, A.D. Kinghorn, R.G. Mehta, R.C. Moon and J.M. Pezzuto, Cancer chemopreventive activity of reseveratrol, a natural product derived from grapes Science 275:218-220 (1997)

© 2008 Greg S. Wirth

Greg Wirth is a nutritionist, author and consultant on multi-vitamin supplements. Focusing on pharmaceutical-grade vs food-grade supplementation. Please contact him at his website [] for specifics on the nutrient you are researching.

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