Phenols are a broad class of aromatic organic compounds manufactured by plants that can be strong systemic poisons for organisms including animals, bacteria,
fungi, parasites and viruses. Phenolic compounds are stored in the tissues of plants to deter plant browsers and are released when plant material decomposes or is damaged. They are also involved in defence against attacks by pathogens and ultraviolet radiation.
Poly means many, which refers to the large number of groupings of the basic phenol rings. There are over 4,000 polyphenol compounds. Many are powerful antioxidants and can neutralise free radicals, reduce inflammation and slow the growth of tumours.
Various polyphenols provide the colours of ripe plums and berries and the intense colours of geraniums and delphiniums.
A polyphenol antioxidant is a type of antioxidant containing a polyphenolic or natural phenol substructure. Anthocyanins, flavonoids, tannins, resveratrol (found in grapes and cocoa) and catechins (such as epigallocatechin gallate (found in green tea) are all polyphenol compounds. Consuming foods rich in polyphenols can be beneficial to those suffering with diabetes or infections.
Polyphenols are reducing agents and together with other dietary reducing agents, such as carotenoids, vitamins C and vitamin E, referred to as antioxidants, protect the human body's tissues against oxidative stress and associated pathologies such as cancers, coronary heart disease and inflammation. Polyphenols are the most abundant antioxidants in the diet and the main classes of polyphenols are phenolic acids, mainly caffeic acid and flavonoids.
Examples of polyphenols
Capsaicin in chilli and paprika.
Cinnamic acid in cinnamon.
Ferulic acid in cereal grains,
Punicalagins in pomegranates.
Resveratrol in red wine.
Rosmarinic acid found in rosemary, thyme, oregano, sage and peppermint.
Highest sources of flava-3-nols in alphabetical order
Teas (black, green, oolong and white)
Dimers and polymers (proanthocyanidins) are found in apples, berries, cocoa-based products, red grapes and red wine.
Molymers (catechins) are found in apples, apricots, berries, cocoa beans, grapes and teas (green, oolong and white). Apricots are the richest source of catechins.
Theaflavins and thearubigins are found in black tea.
Quercetin is an antihistamine associated with helping to relieve hay fever and hives. It is also known for its anti-inflammatory benefits. Kaempferol, and other flavan-3-ols, are associated with powerful anti-inflammatory and antioxidant activities leading to chronic disease prevention.
Highest sources of flavanones on alphabetical order
Flavones are associated with antioxidant benefits and delaying the metabolising of drugs.
Types of flavones
Highest sources of flavones in alphabetical order
Isoflavones are phyto-oestrogens, meaning that they are chemicals that act like the hormone oestrogen. They may be useful for treating some hormonal issues in women but they may cause issues with the thyroid glands and therefore should be consumed in moderation.
Types of isoflavones
Highest sources of isoflavones in alphabetical order
Lignans consist of enterolactone, sesamin and enterodiol
and can protect against breast cancer in women. The body converts lignans into chemicals with some oestrogen-like effects. Sesamin is a lignan which can help to reduce fat. Lignans also have anticancer, antibacterial and antiviral activity.
Natural sources of lignans
Flaxseeds and oil
Sesame seeds and oil
NOTE: Flaxseeds are the richest source of lignans.
Two classes of phenolic acids can be distinguished:
Components of hydroxybenzoic acid
Ellagitannins in fruits such as blackberries, raspberries and strawberries
Gallic acid in tea leaves
Gallotannins in mangoes
Components of hydroxycinnamic acid
Caffeic acid is found in all plants because it is a key intermediate in the biosynthesis of lignin. It possesses cancer preventing and anti-tumour properties and reduces body weight, lipid metabolism and obesity-related hormone levels. It can also boost athletic performance, reduce exercise-related fatigue and help with the treatment of herpes, HIV/AIDS and other virus infections.
Stilbenes are found in only low quantities in the human diet. One of these, resveratrol, for which anti-carcinogenic effects have been shown during screening of medicinal plants and which has been extensively studied, is found in low quantities in wine. However, because resveratrol is found in such small quantities in the diet, any protective effect of this molecule is unlikely at normal nutritional intakes.
Many synthetic food additives are now derived from petroleum or crude oil such as
Butylated hydroxyanisole (BHA) E321
Butylated hydroxytoluene (BHT) E392
Tertiary butylhydroquinone (TBHQ) E320
Tertiary butylhydroquinone (TBHQ) is an aromatic organic compound which is a type of phenol used as a food preservative which is a form of butane. It is also used in the stabilisation process of explosive compounds. It can be found as an additive in the following products:
Cosmetic skincare products for adults and babies.
Consuming high doses (1-4 g) of tertiary butylhydroquinone can cause the following symptoms:
Hyperactivity in children
Nausea and vomiting
Rhinitis (inflammation inside the nose)
Tinnitus (ringing in the ears)
It may also aggravate attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD symptoms). It can also affect oestrogen levels in women.
Phenolic compounds are regularly found throughout the environment in thousands of items including most foods, pollen and chemicals. Many forms of asthma are caused by allergic reactions from both airborne phenolic compounds and those found in foods. It is difficult to avoid phenols as one of them, gallic acid, occurs in about 70% of the foods humans consume.
If there is no improvement to symptoms through the elimination of phenols then check that the intolerance is not to the other food allergens listed on this page: Allergies
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