It is well-established from numerous population-based observational studies, that consumption of polyphenol-rich foods, primarily fruits and vegetables is beneficial to health.
Until relatively recently, it was widely believed that these health benefits were mediated by their capacity to scavenge free radicals, but there is another mechanism by which they seem to support overall health too.
It is thought that polyphenols help the body adapt.
The body works best when everything is in balance, or homeostasis. Homeostasis is the normal state of a healthy cell or organism, where all biochemicals and enzymes are regulated to their optimal concentrations.
When we exercise for example, we ask more of our body, and so it moves out of homeostasis. It then must adapt to manage the challenge.
The current school of thought is that polyphenol compounds promote adaptive effects throughout the body in a process known as hormesis; or more easily remembered, what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.
Hormesis is a dose-response phenomenon. Plants have in-built defences (so they aren’t eaten – but we ignore that memo); when we consume these components, they provide a low-dose-stress for our cells. This stress switches on certain pathways in our cells, which are beneficial to our health.
In a nutshell, when our body is exposed to the low-level stress (the polyphenolic compound), it figures out how to deal with it, so then when we are exposed to a bigger stress, it’s got a plan already figured out.
It is through this same mechanism that the body seems to figure out when it needs its antioxidant defences. Data is showing that those who exercise have higher resting rates of antioxidant compounds than those who lead a sedentary lifestyle. This is because exercise produces free radicals, so the body needs more antioxidants to scavenge them. Its true what they say, if you don’t use it, you lose it.
The body is incredibly nifty; it has so many ways of dealing with what we ask of it, but there’s no reason we can’t help it build its armoury too. We can eat a diet rich in polyphenolic compounds, filling our plate with the colours of the rainbow to expose our cells to those compounds which help the body figure out its responses.
And if life is a little hectic and you’re not sure you’re hitting the mark on your five-a-day, go grab your Fivaday.
Head on over to the shop for clinically proven, antioxidant boost, equivalent to five portions of fruit and veg!