Consuming flavonoid-rich items such as apples and tea protects against cancer and heart disease, particularly for smokers and heavy drinkers, according to new research from Edith Cowan University (ECU) in Denmark.
Researchers from ECU's School of Medical and Health Sciences analysed data from the Danish Diet, Cancer and Health cohort that assessed the diets of 53,048 Danes over 23 years.
They found that people who habitually consumed moderate to high amounts of foods rich in flavonoids, compounds found in plant-based foods and drinks, were less likely to die from cancer or heart disease.
No quick fix for unhealthy habits
While the study found a lower risk of death in those who ate flavonoid-rich foods, the protective effect appeared to be strongest for those at high risk of chronic diseases due to cigarette smoking and those who drank more than two standard alcoholic drinks a day. (One standard drink is the equivalent of 5 ounces of wine, 12 ounces of 5% beer or 1.5 ounces of spirits.)
The researchers emphasized that flavonoid consumption does not counteract all of the increased risk of death caused by smoking and high alcohol consumption…by far the best thing to do for your health is to quit smoking and cut down on alcohol.
What are flavonoids?
Flavonoids are bioactive compounds found in fruits, vegetables, legumes, tea, chocolate and red wine. The 4,000-plus different flavonoids found in foods can be divided into subclasses; the ones we most commonly consume include:
- Anthocyanins (in blueberries, blackberries, cranberries, raspberries, strawberries, red grapes, red wine)
- Flavonols (in berries, garlic, kale, onions, spinach, tea, broccoli, red wine, cherry tomatoes)
- Flavones (in celery, garlic, green peppers, hot peppers, herbal tea, parsley, thyme)
- Flavonones (in all citrus fruit)
How much is enough?
Participants consuming about 500 milligrams of total flavonoids each day had the lowest risk of a cancer or heart disease-related death.
It's important to consume a variety of different flavonoid compounds found in plant foods, easily achievable through the diet: one cup of tea, one apple, one orange, 100 grams of blueberries, and 100 grams of broccoli would provide a wide range of flavonoid compounds and over 500 milligrams of total flavonoids.
How flavonoids work
This new study established an association between eating flavonoid-rich foods and a lower risk of death, but the exact nature of the protective effect was unclear. The researchers say it is likely to be multifaceted.
As powerful antioxidants, flavonoids do their work in the body by preventing damage caused by
free radicals, unstable molecules that can harm cells. Cumulative free radical damage is implicated in aging, memory decline, depression and many chronic diseases.
Flavonoids also decrease inflammation, relax blood vessels and help prevent blood clots that could lead to heart attack or stroke. As well, flavonoids have been shown to activate the brain’s natural house-cleaning process, helping remove toxins and other compounds that can interfere with cognitive function.
Alcohol consumption and smoking both increase inflammation and damage blood vessels, which can increase the risk of a range of diseases.
All research on this web site is the property of Leslie Beck Nutrition Consulting Inc. and is protected by copyright. Keep in mind that research on these matters continues daily and is subject to change. The information presented is not intended as a substitute for medical treatment. It is intended to provide ongoing support of your healthy lifestyle practices.