Vitamin P: How Flavonoids Benefit Your Health


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Plant Compounds That Help Remove Free Radicals
By Darla Leal | Reviewed by a board-certified physician
May 23, 2018

Are you looking for the right vitamin to improve your health and prevent disease? Do you dread swallowing a bunch of vitamin pills? Well, vitamin P is shown to have numerous health benefits and it’s not something that comes in a bottle.

What Is Vitamin P?
Vitamin P isn’t considered a vitamin at all according to Sonya Angelone, MS, RDN, CLT, spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Rather it’s the name given to a group of plant substances known as flavonoids or bioflavonoids. When you’re eating a salad with colorful plant foods, you’re getting a dose of vitamin P or flavonoids.

Science has identified over 5000 different kinds of flavonoids in plants, says Angelone. Flavonoids contain powerful phytonutrients (plant nutrients) and antioxidants. They provide color to attract pollinating insects and protect the plant against natural predators like bacteria, fungi, and pests. Phytonutrients give robust flavors to the plant foods you consume.

While flavonoids technically aren’t vitamins, they offer many health benefits for the human body, suggests Angelone. Ongoing research continues to reveal new flavonoids beneficial to health improvement and disease prevention.

Flavonoids or plant chemicals are broken down into subclasses including:

Flavanols - a group of polyphenols or compounds found in plants. Provide a protective role.
Flavones - plant compounds that include luteolin and apigenin. Plant food sources include celery, hot peppers, herbs, and spices. Offers antioxidant health benefits.
Isoflavones - a class of flavonoids providing superior anti-inflammatory properties.
Anthocyanidins - compound giving plant foods a dark hue. Provides antioxidant health benefits.

Types of Bioflavonoids
Flavonoids or bioflavonoids are shown to provide numerous health benefits and are abundant in plant foods. By consuming a wide variety of phytonutrients, you’re introducing several types of bioflavonoids into your body.

Flavonoids are found in foods and beverages like broccoli and other cruciferous vegetables, nuts, seeds, cacao, and green tea, according to Angelone. You may want to consider adding a few of the following bioflavonoid groups to your diet:

Quercetin – contains various flavonoids. Primarily found in apples, citrus fruits, onions, berries, other fruits, and vegetables. Quercetin combined with green tea was found to have powerful anti-cancer benefits. It’s considered the most abundant and active flavonoid with strong antioxidant properties.
Catechins – help to create the color and flavor of plant foods. They are considered a potent antioxidant found most abundantly in green tea. Other rich sources of catechins include raspberries, dark chocolate, acai berry, and wine.
Anthocyanins – the most highly recognized and visible bioflavonoid phytochemical. Provides the rich color found in red, blue and purple berries, red cabbage, red and purple grapes, and red wine. Anthocyanins play a role in scavenging for free radicals and antioxidant protection.
Isoflavones – also known as soy isoflavones. They are a class of phytochemicals and type of phytoestrogen (plant hormone). They provide antioxidant properties shown to reduce the risk of disease and cancer. Foods rich in isoflavones include soybeans, chickpeas, and other legumes.
Pycnogenols – also called proanthocyanidins. They contain very powerful antioxidant properties shown to offer significant cardiovascular protection and other health benefits. Plant food sources include grape seed, grape skin, cranberry, barley, rhubarb, cinnamon, and pine bark.
Green tea polyphenols – bioactive compounds making up approximately 30 percent of green tea by weight. The Camellia sinensis leaves are shown to have the highest concentration of polyphenols that are powerful antioxidants. Among the three varieties (black, green, oolong), green tea is shown to provide the most health benefits. Green tea polyphenols are associated with reduced risk of numerous types of cancers and decreased risk factors related to heart disease.
How Do Flavonoids Benefit Your Health?
Flavonoids don’t prevent disease like vitamin C prevents rickets, according to Angelone. Rather, they contribute to optimal health and chronic disease prevention.

Everyday living can have a negative impact on your health. Free radicals are produced when your body uses oxygen to convert food to energy. More free radicals enter your system by smoking, water pollution, and illness. Free radicals are basically unstable atoms in your body experiencing oxidative stress. Oxidative stress can damage the cells in your body, cause inflammation, and increase your risk of disease and aging.

Flavonoids are powerful antioxidants that have immune system benefits. They help your body deal with inflammation and oxidative stress by detoxifying tissue-damaging chemicals. Flavonoids are associated with preventing chronic diseases like cardiovascular disease, cancer, and diabetes, says Angelone.

A study published in the Royal Society of Chemistry examined the anti-inflammatory activity of natural dietary flavonoids. It was indicated chronic inflammation was linked to increased risk of cancer, neurological disease, metabolic disorder, and cardiovascular disease. Consuming flavonoids was suggested as a new approach to help reduce chronic inflammatory diseases.

Research results demonstrated that controlling inflammation by consuming phytochemicals as an important part of disease prevention. Flavonoids were shown to reduce inflammatory molecule production and diminish the recruitment and activation of inflammatory cells. They were also said to help regulate cellular function and promote antioxidant activity in the body.

Eating plenty of vegetables, fruits, and edible plants rich in flavonoids are recommended to prevent and lower the risk of chronic diseases.

A Word From Verywell
Most fruits, vegetables, and herbs contain health-promoting vitamin P or flavonoids, according to Angelone. Typically, the more colorful the food, the richer it is in various flavonoids. People who eat the typical American diet usually don’t eat enough flavonoids. This is one reason that the typical American diet is associated with an increased risk for chronic diseases. It’s also the very reason plenty of flavonoids should be included in your daily diet.