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How to Combat Aging with Polyphenols

There has been a significant surge of interest in polyphenols, as regards aging, in recent years. Researchers have made some interesting findings about them and are still working to know more. These compounds boast powerful properties that could help deal with several age-related conditions. In this piece, we shed more light on these substances, the different types, and how they can be beneficial for fighting issues related to aging, among other things.

What are polyphenols?

These are phytochemicals – that is, they are substances obtained from plant sources. Also known as polyhydroxyphenols, polyphenols have large numbers of phenol structures. They are usually bigger molecules, compared to phenols, present in cell vacuoles of plants. It is thought that naturally occurring polyphenols may be up to about 10,000 in number. In addition to the naturally occurring ones, there are also synthetic or semi-synthetic chemicals.

These macromolecules have supposedly been so-named since 1894. The name was formed from the combination of the Greek word "polus" (many) and the word "phenol," which describes a chemical structure resulting from link to an aromatic benzenoid (phenyl) ring.

In plants, polyphenols contribute to a variety of growth processes, including ripening. They give fruits and vegetables their deep, rich colors. The molecules help to prevent microbial infections and to drive away herbivores, among other functions. They are present in high quantity in bark layers, the epidermis, flowers, fruits and leaf tissue. Condensed tannins account for most of the polyphenols found in a wide variety of plants.

Types of polyphenols

These macromolecules have been divided into different types. There are four major categories, which also have sub-types. The classification is based on the number of their phenol rings and the structural elements that join them.


These polyphenols have been the focus of most studies by researchers. They are the most widely available in foods. But flavonoids are usually present in somewhat low concentrations, in glycosylated forms. They contain powerful anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. Polyphenols in the flavonoid group include:

• Flavones
• Isoflavones
• Catechins
• Flavanones
• Flavonols (e.g. kaempferol)
• Quercetin

Phenolic acids

These polyphenols are divided into two main classes: hydroxybenzoic and hydroxycinnamic acids. The latter, which are derivatives of cinnamic, is more common in plants. Hydroxycinnamic acids mainly comprise ferulic, caffeic, sinapic and p-coumaric acids. Researchers do not know much about hydroxybenzoic acids due to their limited availability. As a result, the compounds attract less attention.


The most notable polyphenol in the stilbene group is resveratrol. It is generating significant interest in the anti-aging circle. Stilbenes are present in average human diet in low quantities.


Product of two phenylpropane units, lignans are polyphenols that are metabolized to enterolignans, enterodiol, and enterolactone in the body. Researchers believe more plants than currently known are sources of lignans. This is considering the amounts of its metabolites in the body that have been reported in different studies.

The foods we eat offer combinations of polyphenols. And while some of the macromolecules may appear more popular or common, this does not really mean they are better than others.

What is the connection to anti-aging?

Research suggests that polyphenols offer immense potentials for combating aging and problems associated with it. They could help through a number of key mechanisms. The main focus of research on polyphenols has been to know how they can improve human health and the specific ones that offer the most benefits. While there is now significant knowledge on their anti-aging benefits, work is still ongoing on learning the means of achieving them.

We discuss below some of the ways by which polyphenols may possibly help in the aging process.

Sirtuin activation

Research has shown that a class of proteins known as sirtuins offers notable anti-aging benefits. The ability of calorie restriction (CR) to extend lifespan is linked to the sirtuins. But you don't really get the impressive benefits without these proteins being activated. CR is the only means long-known to help in achieving this.

However, the polyphenol resveratrol has been identified as a sirtuin activator. So it can indirectly help to promote longevity based on this action. Sirtuins, in turn, help to activate mechanisms that can enhance cell survival. SIRT1, which resveratrol specifically activates, is useful for control of stress resistance, apoptosis, metabolism, inflammation, and cell senescence. Evidence shows impressive potential for developing treatments that can help fight aging.

Stomach health

The state of your gut is a major determinant of quality of your overall health and pace of aging. In there can be found a variety of bacteria, both helpful and harmful. Experts say numerous trillions of these organisms as well as viruses and fungi can be found in the stomach. Beneficial bacteria are thought to be crucial in guarding against age-related conditions, including neurodegenerative diseases, diabetes, obesity and cancer.

Research shows that polyphenols influence your body's microbiome of bacteria and other microorganisms. They improve nutrition of helpful bacteria in the stomach. The phytochemicals are believed to also help in reducing the population of harmful bacteria. It then means that you could find them useful in dealing with conditions that come with age, which may also accelerate your clock.

Weight loss effects

Still on beneficial bacteria, the balance of these organisms in humans is relevant to body weight. Some people tend to experience weight gain as they get older. This may be as a result of this balance being disrupted.

Research has revealed differences in the amount of certain bacteria between obese and lean individuals. People who were obese had roughly 90 percent less bacteriodetes and 20 percent more firmicutes than their lean peers. While firmicutes extract calories from food and store as fat, bacteroidetes break them down for use as energy. Polyphenols produce positive effects on the balance of these two bacteria variants.

Another of the bacteria which polyphenols boost and that plays a role in weight loss is bifidobacteria. It was observed in a study that children of healthy weight had twice as high amount of the bacteria as those who were obese. Another group of researchers found that the levels of these beneficial microorganisms rose considerably after having a drink of wild blueberries. This fruit, like other types of berries, is very rich in polyphenols. Bifidobacteria may also help control the harmful effects of bad bacteria.

Alzheimer's disease prevention

A major point of interest about polyphenols is their neuroprotective capacity. This means that they can help with Alzheimer's disease and other neurodegenerative disorders. AD is a leading cause of death in the United States, with more than five million Americans said to have it. Polyphenols can help to deal with chronic inflammation and oxidative stress. Researchers say compounds that offer these benefits can be beneficial for Alzheimer's, a severe form of dementia.

Polyphenols directly help to eliminate free radical species in the body that could cause oxidative damage, according to research. They also form a chelate with metal ions. These actions enhance its neuroprotective capability. Studies revealed that inclusion of the phytochemicals in daily diet slowed the progression of dementia.

Diabetes management

As a result of their role in sirtuin activation, polyphenols improve metabolic function. This then means that you could find them useful in fighting Type 2 diabetes that are common among older individuals. But this does not indicate they constitute a cure for this condition. The compounds can only help to manage it.

The phytochemicals may help to stabilize blood sugar, based on evidence from research. They can also reduce insulin resistance and enhance fat metabolism. These actions make them potentially beneficial for diabetics.

Cardiovascular function

Research indicates your heart could benefit from polyphenols. The phytochemical epigallocatechin-3-gallate (EGCG), in particular, is considered useful for understanding the processes by which cardiovascular function can be enhanced. The compounds are thought to have properties that can modify the chemical environment of a variety of cells. They can help, partly, because of the inflammatory response they produce. Polyphenols are also beneficial to cardiovascular health due to how they reduce oxidative damage.

These phytochemicals inhibit vascular endothelial growth factor which could worsen arterial plaques that contribute to atherosclerosis. Those in the flavonoid group are particularly known to help deal with platelet clumping, a risk factor for heart attacks.

Osteoporosis prevention

It is known that as people get older they experience drop in hormone levels. Among other things, this contributes to loss of bone mineral density. Low levels of human growth hormone can give rise to this. The loss of bone density is more popularly known as osteoporosis. This condition makes the elderly more susceptible to bone fractures. Research indicates that polyphenols can help guard against this problem. Their antioxidant properties are known to help with bone metabolism. This effect may contribute to lower the risk of you having osteoporosis.

Anti-cancer effects

Cancer is a real scourge in today's world. Estimate has it that up to about 2 in every 5 persons will have it during their lifetime. It is a major cause of death, especially in Western countries. The process by which this dreaded condition develops is a complex one. Notable among the factors known to have a hand in this are oxidative stress and chronic inflammation. These are problems that research shows polyphenols may help with. As a result, they could be useful for cancer prevention.

The phytochemicals are anti-tumorigenic agents – that is, they help to combat tumors. Scientists have come to understand that they exhibit their cancer-fighting properties at many levels. These include inhibition of angiogenesis, reduction of cell expression, suppression of cell proliferation, and prevention of metastasis. This makes researchers believe that polyphenols offer impressive potential in the fight against cancer and related issues. The antioxidant activity of the compounds help to prevent free radicals from damaging your DNA.

Adjusting your diet for polyphenols


You can get polyphenols in a variety of foods, some of which you may already have in your diet. Foods, in most cases, contain a blend of the phytochemicals. Fruits and vegetables are the most notable sources of phytochemicals. Foods that offer the most amount, based on weight, include:

• Celery seed
• Cloves
• Blueberries
• Raw cacao
• Dark chocolate
• Peppermint
• Rosemary
• Mexican oregano
• Dried sage
• Blackcurrant
• Black elderberry
• Hazel nuts

In addition to the above, rich sources of polyphenols include green tea, black tea, coffee, apples, pears, oranges, and capers. Some foods have phytochemicals that are specific to them. Examples include isoflavones in soya and flavanones in citrus fruits.


Foods essentially often vary in terms of the polyphenols you will get from them, although some offer a mixture of several. The amount and types of the macromolecules you get in each food is determined by a variety of factors. These include environmental factors, ripeness at harvesting, and method of processing. Soil type, rainfall and exposure to light are some environmental factors that can influence polyphenol content. It is said that the amount of anthocyanins increases while that of phenolic acids falls with ripening.


This is another relevant consideration when trying to increase your polyphenol intake. The ability of your body to absorb polyphenols from different foods differs. This means while your diet may contain a high amount of the compounds, they may not be readily available to your body. A case in point are proanthocyanidins. These are highly abundant in our diet, but are less available to the body.

Different factors may be responsible for the difference in bioavailability of polyphenols among different foods. Some experts suggest this may be because of the phytochemicals being highly metabolized or due to lower intrinsic activity. It may well be as a result of poor absorption in the intestine.

The kinds of food you eat appears to play a role in how well its polyphenol content will be available to your body. For example, it was observed in humans that quercetin absorption was faster after consuming onions than when apples were consumed. In the flavonoid group, isoflavones and flavanones are the most bio-available.

D'Archivio and colleagues observed in a 2010 review of studies that the extent of bioavailability of most polyphenols was hard to tell. They suggest need for further research on this. This will be important in having clearer idea of their potential health benefits.

However, it is believed that you can improve bioavailability of polyphenols by including healthy fats in your diet. The basis for this idea is the fat-soluble nature of the molecules. So they can become more available for your body to use when you make fat available as well.

Caution on supplements

Supplements offer a great way of making up for nutrients we are not able to get enough of from our diet. You may be considering these if you wish to enjoy benefits of polyphenols without worrying much about what you eat. While supplements may not be bad, they are not the best. The danger here is mainly that of misuse. You could be tempted into taking too much, thinking they are supplements after all.

You will be doing harm to your health when you ingest too much polyphenols. This may make them become anti-nutrients. In this case, absorption of some vital nutrients, such as iron and other metal ions, could be adversely impacted. There could also be disruption of thyroid hormone metabolism.

So it is advisable to get the phytochemicals from your food. Make sure you are dealing with a reputable company if you must use a supplement. More importantly, ensure you stay within specified safe dosage.

Polyphenols can play a vital role in safeguarding your health against age-related conditions. Their antioxidant behavior is probably what makes them stand out the most. This enables them eliminate free radicals and deal with oxidative damage and chronic inflammation. Their content in food and bioavailability in the body differs based on sources and types. Although available in supplement forms, polyphenols are best obtained from your diet.



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