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By Karen Alexander

Oncology Wellness Specialist on 03/31/2017

What are flavonoids, and how do they improve my health?

Flavonoids are a group of over 10,000 compounds that are found in foodstuffs of plant origin. They are filled with antioxidant, antiviral and antibacterial properties. Consumption of flavonoids is associated with reduced risk of a number of chronic diseases including some cancers, cardiovascular disease, erectile dysfunction and neurodegenerative disorders.

The mechanisms involved in flavonoids and cancer protection are complex and the effects vary depending of the type of cancer, time of exposure and other factors like genetics. The American Institute of Cancer Research says that the flavonoids in celery may reduce risk of ovarian cancer. However, the age you start consuming flavonoids may influence risk of breast cancer later in life. Some research has linked consumption of soy and its isoflavones in adolescence to a reduced risk of premenopausal breast cancer, compared to when soy is consumed later in life. As Dr. Perkins pointed out in a recent article on the breast cancer – soy debate, (LINK) more research is needed in this field.

Cardiovascular Diseases:
The antioxidant properties of flavonoids have been shown to reduce risk of developing cardiovascular diseases and other related conditions including arteriosclerosis, clots formation, and inflammation. Flavonoids also seem to help control blood pressure by promoting vasodilation and blood vessels elasticity.

Erectile Dysfunction:
According to a new study from researchers at Harvard’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health and the University of East Anglia, men who consume 3 to 4 weekly portions of food or drink containing flavonoids reduce their risk of erectile dysfunction.

Neurodegenerative Disorders:
Flavonoids have been shown to reduce risk of neurodegenerative diseases and counteract or delay the onset of age-related cognitive disorders. The mechanisms proposed include the protection of neurons against free radicals, enhancement of their function and regeneration.

In recent years, interest in using supplements containing high doses of specific flavonoids has increased. However, more research on this is needed. For example, we do not know enough about the interaction between flavonoids and medications, the safety and possible toxic effect of using mega-doses, the mechanism of action and whether or not physiologically relevant doses will have a protective effect on a person, or if that protection will vary based on each person’s genetics. For now, the best and safest source of flavonoids is a balanced diet that includes vegetables, fruits, seeds, and some cereals together with tea and certain spices.

Foods that are high in flavonoids include:
Red, blue, and purple berries
Red and purple grapes
Red wine
Teas (particularly white, green, and oolong)
Cocoa-based products
Onions and scallions
Parsley and thyme
Hot peppers
Citrus fruit and juices
Oranges, grapefruits and lemons
Soybeans and soy foods

The recipe of the week comes from the American Institute of Cancer Research, and is packed with flavonoids:

Berry Yogurt Popsicles

1½ cup pitted fresh or frozen cherries
1/2 cup fresh or frozen blackberries
1 tbsp. honey
24 oz. vanilla Greek yogurt
12 (3 oz.) paper cups and 12 popsicle sticks

In small mixing bowl mash cherries and berries. Drizzle in the honey and mix.
In paper cups, layer alternating spoonfuls of yogurt and fruit until full. Place Popsicle stick or plastic spoon in each cup. Freeze.
When ready to serve, tear paper cup off the Popsicle and enjoy.
* Makes 12 paper cup popsicles.

Per serving: 69 calories, 0 g total fat (0 g saturated fat), 12 g carbohydrate, 5 g protein, 1 g dietary fiber, 18 mg sodium.

Note: Blackberries and black grapes are high in the flavonoids epicatechin and catechin while raspberries, cherries and red grapes are high in anthocyanidins and cyanidin.

Recipe from the AICR

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