Eating Vitamin P could be the new way of ensuring a long and healthy life
Anyone with a passing interest in their health will be able to rattle off a few of the major vitamins, and possibly take an educated guess at what they do. Vitamin C, found in oranges and other fruit and veg, is important for wound repair. And the much-talked-about ‘sunshine’ Vitamin D, produced by the skin in response to UV light, is essential for strong bones.
But Vitamin P? It might well have you scratching your head. And that’s not surprising: the term was first coined in the 1930s to describe a clutch of compounds that provide pigment to plants, and were believed to have health benefits. Fast-forward almost a century and these compounds are now better known as flavonoids.
Today, scientists have identified between 4,000 and 6,000 different kinds and we now know they are responsible for many of the flavours and smells of fruit and vegetables − and also that they protect them from invaders such as fungi, pests and bacteria.
They are equally important nutrients for the body, helping maintain bones and teeth, and for the production of the protein collagen, which provides structure to blood vessels, muscles and skin.
They are also said to help the body deal with some of the key drivers of illness, including inflammation and oxidation, a natural process by which the body’s cells ‘age’ and can become damaged and defective. That means they could help to protect against chronic disease including cancer and heart disease.
But where can you get your daily dose, and more importantly, why should you?
Citrus fruits to stave off stroke
Research in the Journal Of Nutrition found that people who ate a diet rich in citrus fruits and juices – the main source of a class of flavonoid known as flavanones – had a 31 per cent lower risk of stroke than those who ate few of the fruits.
The Nurses’ Health Study, which investigated the diet and lifestyle habits of 70,000 women, reported similar findings, with those consuming the highest amounts of flavanones having a 19 per cent lower risk of ischemic stroke, the type caused by narrowing of the blood vessels in the brain.
Flavanones are associated with improved circulation, lower blood pressure and also lower cholesterol levels.
Citrus fruits such as oranges have flavanones which are recognised as reducing the chance of having a stroke according to a study of 70,000 woman
It is believed they have a protective effect on the blood-vessel walls, improving their elasticity. Although the exact mechanism is unknown, one theory is that flavanones indirectly increase levels of nitric oxide, the chemical that relaxes and widens arteries.
Registered dietician Helen Bond said: ‘Interestingly, the citrus flavanones are found more highly concentrated in the white pith of the fruit than in the actual flesh, so it is best not to remove this part.’
Tea and cocoa for the heart and brain
Two mugs of tea a day could help improve heart health, according to researchers. A Taiwanese study found that people who consumed 450ml (about two mugs) of black or green tea daily for at least a year had lower arterial stiffness, compared to those who drank less tea.
More flexible arteries can respond better to the daily physical and emotional stresses that require the arteries to temporarily pump more blood. If arteries are stiff and inflexible, blood pressure can rise and damage arteries, ultimately making a heart attack, stroke or even dementia more likely.
The key compounds in this case are a class of flavonoid known as flavanols, and tea contains a specific type of flavanol – catechins.
Two mugs of black tea a day could help improve the elasticity of blood vessels
Like the flavanones, they probably enhance nitric oxide levels, in turn improving how well the blood vessels can dilate and contract.
Flavanols found in cocoa may also be good for cognitive function.
Italian researchers who tested the effects of cocoa flavanols in 90 healthy people found that medium to high doses produced significant improvements on tests that measured attention and memory.
They consumed 200mg daily in a supplement, but the same amount of flavanols can be provided by a mug of hot chocolate made with cocoa powder.
Aduna High Flavanol Super- Cacao Powder (£14.99 for 275g, hollandandbarrett.com) has 200mg in a rounded tablespoon serving.
Other foods that are rich in flavanols include blueberries, cherries, red wine, apples, pears, fava beans and peanuts.
Purple veg for all-round health
The blue and red colour of foods such as blueberries, raspberries, strawberries, plums, grapes, aubergines and red cabbage is due to the presence of a type of flavanol called anthocyanin.
Helen Bond says: ‘In lab-based studies, they appear to have many potentially helpful biological effects, such as being anti-inflammatory and antioxidant, but more research needs to be done before firm conclusions can be made.’
Researchers reporting in the American Journal Of Clinical Nutrition found that women with the highest anthocyanin intake, mostly from blueberries and strawberries, had an eight per cent decreased risk of developing high blood pressure compared with those who had the lowest anthocyanin intake.
There is growing evidence that anthocyanins could also have anti-diabetic effects, which could potentially be harnessed in nutrition or drug treatments of the future.
In laboratory studies, anthocyanins appear to target carbohydrate digestion in the gut, limiting the release of glucose into the bloodstream.
Eat onions to fight allergies
Broccoli, ginger, asparagus, leafy greens and, most importantly, onions are a source of the flavonoid called quercetin, which has shown to have anti-inflammatory and anti-allergic effects in laboratory studies.
Theoretically, it could be worthwhile eating more onions during the hay-fever season, although the amount needed may be large.
Onions are known to have anti-inflammatory and anti-allergic effects in laboratory studies
In a 2009 study at Osaka University in Japan, quercetin supplements were effective at easing itchy eyes associated with pollen allergy but the dosage was equivalent to eating more than two large onions a day.
However, consuming onions with other fruit and vegetables that contain quercetin, such as apples, kale, asparagus and green beans, could achieve the effective dose – about 150mg a day.
A very high dose of 1,000mg or more of quercetin from supplements is not likely to offer bigger benefits and may not be safe. It is believed it may actually damage the body’s tissues.