Some plants are really more important than others for health, regardless of our age. A study shows that elderly people who regularly eat foods rich in polyphenols reduce their risk of premature death by a third.
Natural super molecules
Polyphenols are a group of complex molecules, produced by plants as a means of defense against their predators. Nearly 10,000 different polyphenols have been identified so far, these molecules being particularly abundant in certain beverages such as red wine and green tea, as well as in several foods such as grapes, apples, onion, wild berries or many more herbs and spices, legumes and nuts.
A large number of epidemiological studies have shown that the abundant consumption of these foods is associated with a significant reduction in chronic diseases, in particular heart disease, several types of cancer as well as certain neurodegenerative diseases. Although the mechanisms involved are still poorly understood, polyphenols probably play an important role in these preventive effects, because these molecules have anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer properties, in many respects similar to those of synthetic molecules marketed by industry. pharmaceutical, without however presenting any side effects or toxicity.
The exact role of polyphenols in the development of chronic diseases is however difficult to determine with precision in this type of population studies, among other things because the measurement of the quantity of food consumed is carried out using a questionnaire and therefore relies heavily on the memory of the participants. To circumvent this limitation, Italian researchers had the excellent idea of determining the dietary intake of polyphenols by measuring their excretion in the urine using a standard biochemical test (Folin-Ciocalteu). Since polyphenols can only come from the diet, their presence in urine therefore reflects a person’s exposure to plant sources containing these molecules, without the biases or errors that are inevitably associated with studies that use a survey.
30% reduction in premature death
Using this approach, the team of researchers focused on determining whether the multiple protective effects of polyphenols translated into a concrete impact of these molecules on the risk of premature death. A population of 807 people aged 65 and over, living independently in the Tuscany region of Italy, was followed for a period of 12 years and mortality correlated with dietary polyphenol intake. They observed that people with the highest urinary concentrations of polyphenols had a 30% lower risk of dying prematurely than those with a lower intake.
Opt for super-vegetables
These results are very interesting, not only because they confirm that polyphenols are largely responsible for the beneficial effect of plants on health, but also because they suggest that the increase in life expectancy observed in the study could be even bigger for people who also consume “super-vegetables”, particularly rich in polyphenols. Which, by the way, is not very difficult! We often forget, but eating healthy is often synonymous with good taste, whether it’s berries, dark chocolate, nuts, all the spices and herbs or beverages such as green tea, all of these foods are exceptional sources of polyphenols that can contribute to a long and healthy life.
(1) Zamora-Ros R et al. High concentrations of a urinary biomarker of polyphenol intake are associated with decreased mortality in older adults. J Nutr. 2013; 143: 1445-50.