Tag Archives: antioxidants

Green tea: definition, processing, properties, polyphenols

Green tea is an infusion of processed leaves of tea plant, Camellia sinensis, a member of the Theaceae family.
It is the most consumed beverages in Asia, particularly in China and Japan.
Western populations consume black tea more frequently than green tea. However, in recent years, thanks to its health benefits, it has been gaining their attention.
Currently, it accounts for 20% of the tea consumed worldwide.

Processing and properties of green tea

As all other types of tea, it is produced from fresh leaves of Camellia sinensis.
The peculiar properties of the beverage depend on the type of processing that the leaves undergo. In fact, they are processed in such a way as to minimize both enzymatic and chemical oxidation processes of the substances contained in them, in particular catechins.
Therefore, among the different types of tea, it undergoes the lowest degree of oxidation during processing.
At the end of the processing, tea leaves retain their green color, thanks to the little chemical modifications/oxidations they have undergone. The infusion shows off a yellow-gold color.
Finally, the processing of tea leaves ensures that green tea flavor is more delicate and lighter than black tea.

The three main steps in the processing of tea leaves

After harvesting, tea leaves are exposed to the sun for 2-3 hours and withered/dried; then, the real processing starts.
It consists of three main steps: heat treatment, rolling and drying.

Heat treatment

Heat treatment, short and gentle, is the crucial step for the quality and properties of the beverage.
It occurs with steam (the traditional Japanese method) or by dry cooking in hot pans (a large wok, the traditional Chinese method). Heat treatment has the purpose of:

  • inactivate the enzymes present in the tissues of the leaves, thus stopping enzymatic oxidation processes, particularly of polyphenols;
  • eliminate the grassy smell in order to stand out tea flavor;
  • evaporate part of the water present in the fresh leaf (water constitutes about 75% of the weight of the leaf), making it softer, so as to make the next step easier.

Rolling

The rolling step follows the heat treatment of the leaves; this step has the purpose of:

  • facilitate the next stage of drying;
  • destroy the tissues of the leaves in order to favor, later, the release of aromas, thus improving the quality of the product.

Drying

The drying is the last step, which also leads to the production of new compounds and improves the appearance of the product.

Green tea polyphenols

Gree Tea
EGCG

All types of tea are rich in polyphenols, compounds that are also present in fruits, vegetables, extra virgin olive oil, and red wine.
Fresh tea leaves are rich in water-soluble polyphenols, especially catechins (or flavanols) and glycosylated catechins (both belonging to the class of flavonoids), molecules which are believed to be the responsibles of the benefits of green tea.
The major catechins in green tea are epigallocatechin-3-gallate (EGCG), epigallocatechin, epicatechin-3-gallate, epicatechin, epicatechin, but also catechin, gallocatechin, catechin gallate, and gallocatechin gallate are present, even if in lower amount. These polyphenols account for 30%-42% of the dry leaf weight (but only 3%–10% of the solid content of black tea).
Green tea caffeine accounts for 1,5-4,5% of the dry leaf weight.

How to maximize the absorption of catechins

In vitro studies have shown the high antioxidant power of catechins, greater than that of vitamin C and vitamin E. In vitro, EGCG is generally considered the most biologically active catechin.
In vivo studies and several epidemiologic studies have shown the possible preventive effects of green tea catechins, especially EGCG, in preventing the development of:

  • cardiovascular disease, such as hypertension and stroke;
  • some cancers, such as lung cancer (but not among smokers) and oral and digestive tract cancers.

For these reasons, it is essential to maximize the intestinal absorption of catechins.
Catechins are stable in acidic environment, but not in non-acidic environment, as in the small intestine; also for this reason, after digestion, less than 20% of the total remains.
Studies with models of the digestive tract of rat and man, that simulate digestion in stomach and small intestine, have shown that the addition of citrus juice or vitamin C to green tea significantly increases the absorption of catechins.
Among tested citrus juices, lemon juice is the best, followed by orange, lime and grapefruit juices. Citrus juices seem to have a stabilizing effect on catechins that goes beyond what would be predicted solely based on their ascorbic acid content.

References

Clifford M.N., van der Hooft J.J.J., and Crozier A. Human studies on the absorption, distribution, metabolism, and excretion of tea polyphenols. Am J Clin Nutr 2013;98:1619S-1630S. doi:10.3945/ajcn.113.058958

Dwyer J.T. and Peterson J. Tea and flavonoids: where we are, where to go next. Am J Clin Nutr 2013;98:1611S-1618S. doi:10.3945/ajcn.113.059584

Green R.J., Murphy A.S., Schulz B., Watkins B.A. and Ferruzzi M.G. Common tea formulations modulate in vitro digestive recovery of green tea catechins. Mol Nutr Food Res 2007;51(9):1152-1162. doi:10.1002/mnfr.200700086

Huang W-Y., Lin Y-R., Ho R-F., Liu H-Y., and Lin Y-S. Effects of water solutions on extracting green tea leaves. ScientificWorldJournal 2013;Article ID 368350. doi:10.1155/2013/368350

Sharma V.K., Bhattacharya A., Kumar A. and Sharma H.K. Health benefits of tea consumption. Trop J Pharm Res 2007;6(3):785-792.

Tea polyphenols: bioactive compounds from leaves of tea plant

Tea PolyphenolsThe leaves of the tea plant, Camellia sinensis, and tea are rich in bioactive compounds.
More than 4000 molecules have been found in the beverage.
Approximately one third of these compounds are polyphenols, the most important molecules in determining nutritional value and health benefits of the beverage.
Tea polyphenols are mostly flavonoids, such as catechins in green tea (e.g. EGCG), and thearubigins and theaflavins in black tea.
Other bioactive compounds present in tea are:

  • alkaloids, such as caffeine, theophylline and theobromine;
  • amino acids, and among them, theanine (r-glutamylethylamide), that is also a brain neurotransmitter and one of the most important amino acids in green tea;
  • proteins;
  • carbohydrates;
  • chlorophyll;
  • volatile organic molecules, that is, compounds that easily produce vapors and contribute to the odor of the beverage;
  • fluoride, aluminum and trace elements.

These molecules provide the nutritional value of the tea, affecting human health in many ways. Their composition is highly influenced by processing of tea leaves.

Biological activities of polyphenols

Polyphenols, both in vivo and in vitro, have a broad spectrum of biological activities such as:

  • antioxidant properties;
  • reduction of various types of tumors;
  • inhibition of inflammation;
  • protective effects against hyperlipidemia and diabetes.

Therefore, they have a protective role against the development of many diseases.
Thanks to the abundance of tea polyphenols, there has been a growing interest in recent years about the possible preventive effects of beverage against several diseases, particularly cardiovascular disease, for example in the development and progression of atherosclerosis.

Mechanisms of action of tea polyphenols

Currently, there is limited information on how tea polyphenols exert their effects at cellular level.
It seems, at least in vitro, that catechins in green tea, and theaflavins and thearubigins in black tea are the bioactive compounds responsible for the physiological effects and health benefits of tea.
And among the observed mechanisms by which tea polyphenols act at the cellular level, in addition to the antioxidant effect, it has been observed, as a consequence of polyphenol binding to specific receptors on the cell membrane, changes in the activity of various protein kinases, and growth and transcriptional factors.
Moreover, it seems that these molecules, or at least EGCG, may enter the cell and directly interact with their intracellular specific targets.

References

Dwyer J.T. and Peterson J. Tea and flavonoids: where we are, where to go next. Am J Clin Nutr 2013;98:1611S-1618S doi:10.3945/ajcn.113.059584

Grassi D., Desideri G., Di Giosia P., De Feo M., Fellini E., Cheli P., Ferri L., and Ferri C. Tea, flavonoids, and cardiovascular health: endothelial protection. Am J Clin Nutr 2013;98:1660S-1666S doi:10.3945/ajcn.113.058313

Lambert J.D. Does tea prevent cancer? Evidence from laboratory and human intervention studies. Am J Clin Nutr 2013;98:1667S-1675S doi:10.3945/ajcn.113.059352

Lenore Arab L., Khan F., and Lam H. Tea consumption and cardiovascular disease risk. Am J Clin Nutr 2013;98:1651S-1659S doi:10.3945/ajcn.113.059345

Lorenz M. Cellular targets for the beneficial actions of tea polyphenols. Am J Clin Nutr 2013;98:1642S-1650S doi:10.3945/ajcn.113.058230

Sharma V.K., Bhattacharya A., Kumar A. and Sharma H.K. Health benefits of tea consumption. Trop J Pharm Res 2007;6(3):785-792.

Yuan J-M. Cancer prevention by green tea: evidence from epidemiologic studies. Am J Clin Nutr 2013;98:1676S-1681S doi:10.3945/ajcn.113.058271

Green tea benefits for health

Green Tea Benefits
Fig. 1 – Green Tea Benefits

Tea drinking, particularly green tea, has always been associated, at least in East Asia cultures (mainly in China and Japan) with health benefits. Only recently, the scientific community has begun to study the health benefits of tea consumption, recognizing its preventive value in many diseases.

Green tea benefits in preventing cancer

Several epidemiological and laboratory studies have shown encouraging results with respect to possible preventive role of tea, particularly green tea and its catechins, a subgroup of flavonoids (the most abundant polyphenols in human diet) against the development of some cancers like:

  • oral and digestive tract cancers;
  • lung cancer among those who have never smoked, not among smokers.

Tea polyphenols, the most active of which is epigallocatechin-3-gallate (EGCG), seem to act not only as antioxidants, but also as molecules that, directly, may influence gene expression and diverse metabolic pathways.

Green tea and cardiovascular disease

Cardiovascular disease is the main cause of deaths worldwide, particularly in low- and middle-income countries, with an estimate of about 17 million deaths in 2008 that will increase up to 23.3 million by 2030.
Daily tea consumption, especially green tea, seems to be associated with a reduced risk of developing cardiovascular disease, such as hypertension and stroke.
Among the proposed mechanisms, the improved bioactivity of the endothelium-derived vasodilator nitric oxide (NO), due to the action of tea polyphenols that enhance nitric oxide synthesis, and/or decrease superoxide-mediated nitric oxide breakdown seem to be important.

Green tea and antioxidant properties

Tea polyphenols may act, in vitro, as free radical scavengers.
Since radical damage plays a pivotal role in the development of many diseases such as atherosclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis, cancer, or in ischemia-reoxygenation injury, tea polyphenols, particularly green tea catechins, may have a preventive role.

Green tea benefits in weight loss and weight maintenance

Green tea, but also oolong tea, that is, catechins and caffeine rich teas, has a potential thermogenic effect. This has made them a potential tool for:

  • weight loss, by increasing energy expenditure and fat oxidation;
  • weight maintenance, ensuring a high energy expenditure during the maintenance of weight loss.

Indeed, it has been shown that green tea and green tea extracts are not an aid in weight loss and weight maintenance, since:

  • they are not able to induce a significant weight loss in overweight and obese adults;
  • they are not helpful in the maintenance of weight loss.

Green tea and preventing dental decay

Animal and in vitro studies have shown that tea, and in particular its polyphenols, seems to possess:

  • antibacterial properties against pathogenic action of cariogenic bacteria, as Streptococcus mutans, particularly green tea EGCG;
  • inhibitory action on salivary and bacterial amylase (it seems that black tea thearubigins and theaflavins are more effective than green tea catechins);
  • it is able to inhibit acid production in the oral cavity./li>

All these properties make green tea and black tea, beverages with potential anticariogenic activity.

References

Arab L., Khan F., and Lam H. Tea consumption and cardiovascular disease risk. Am J Clin Nutr 2013;98:1651S-1659S doi:10.3945/ajcn.113.059345

Dwyer J.T. and Peterson J. Tea and flavonoids: where we are, where to go next. Am J Clin Nutr 2013;98:1611S-1618S doi:10.3945/ajcn.113.059584

Goenka P., Sarawgi A., Karun V., Nigam A.G., Dutta S., Marwah N. Camellia sinensis (Tea): implications and role in preventing dental decay. Phcog Rev 2013;7:152-6 doi:10.4103/0973-7847.120515

Grassi D., Desideri G., Di Giosia P., De Feo M., Fellini E., Cheli P., Ferri L., and Ferri C. Tea, flavonoids, and cardiovascular health: endothelial protection. Am J Clin Nutr 2013;98:1660S-1666S doi:10.3945/ajcn.113.058313

Hursel R. and Westerterp-Plantenga M.S. Catechin- and caffeine-rich teas for control of body weight in humans. Am J Clin Nutr 2013;98:1682S-1693S doi:10.3945/ajcn.113.058396

Hursel R., Viechtbauer W. and Westerterp-Plantenga M.S. The effects of green tea on weight loss and weight maintenance: a meta-analysis. Int J Obesity 2009;33:956-961 doi:10.1038/ijo.2009.135

Jurgens T.M., Whelan A.M., Killian L., Doucette S., Kirk S., Foy E. Green tea for weight loss and weight maintenance in overweight or obese adults. Editorial group: Cochrane Metabolic and Endocrine Disorders Group. 2012:12 Art. No.: CD008650 doi:10.1002/14651858.CD008650.pub2

Lagari V.S., Levis S. Phytoestrogens for menopausal bone loss and climacteric symptoms. J Steroid Biochem Mol Biol 2014;139:294-301 doi:10.1016/j.jsbmb.2012.12.002

Lambert J.D. Does tea prevent cancer? Evidence from laboratory and human intervention studies. Am J Clin Nutr 2013;98:1667S-1675S doi:10.3945/ajcn.113.059352

Lethaby A., Marjoribanks J., Kronenberg F., Roberts H., Eden J., Brown J. Phytoestrogens for menopausal vasomotor symptoms. Cochrane Database Syst Rev 2013:10;12 Art. No.: CD001395 doi:10.1002/14651858.CD001395.pub4

Levis S., Strickman-Stein N., Ganjei-Azar P., Xu P., Doerge D.R., Krischer J. Soy isoflavones in the prevention of menopausal bone loss and menopausal symptoms: a randomized, double-blind trial. Arch Intern Med 2011:8;171(15):1363-9 doi:10.1001/archinternmed.2011.330

Lorenz M. Cellular targets for the beneficial actions of tea polyphenols. Am J Clin Nutr 2013;98:1642S-1650S doi:10.3945/ajcn.113.058230

Sharma V.K., Bhattacharya A., Kumar A. and Sharma H.K. Health benefits of tea consumption. Trop J Pharm Res 2007;6(3):785-792.

Yang Y-C., Lu F-H., Wu J-S., Wu C-H., Chang C-J. The protective effect of habitual tea consumption on hypertension. Arch Intern Med 2004;164:1534-1540 doi:10.1001/archinte.164.14.1534

Yuan J-M. Cancer prevention by green tea: evidence from epidemiologic studies. Am J Clin Nutr 2013;98:1676S-1681S doi:10.3945/ajcn.113.058271

Flavonoids: definition, structure and classification

Flavonoids are the most abundant polyphenols in human diet, representing about 2/3 of all those ones ingested. Like other phytochemicals, they are the products of secondary metabolism of plants and, currently, it is not possible to determine precisely their number, even if over 4000 have been identified.
In fruits and vegetables, they are usually found in the form of glycosides and sometimes as acylglycosides, while acylated, methylated and sulfate molecules are less frequent and in lower concentrations.
They are water-soluble and accumulate in cell vacuoles.

CONTENTS

Chemical structure of flavonoids

Their basic structure is a skeleton of diphenylpropane, namely, two benzene rings (ring A and B, see figure) linked by a three carbon chain that forms a closed pyran ring (heterocyclic ring containing oxygen, the C ring) with benzenic A ring. Therefore, their structure is also referred to as C6-C3-C6.

Flavonoids: the Skeleton
Fig. 1 – Skeleton of Diphenylpropane

In most cases, B ring is attached to position 2 of C ring, but it can also bind in position 3 or 4; this, together with the structural features of the ring B and the patterns of glycosylation and hydroxylation of the three rings, makes the flavonoids one of the larger and more diversified groups of phytochemicals, so not only of polyphenols, in nature.
Their biological activities, for example they are potent antioxidants, depend both on the structural characteristics and the pattern of glycosylation.

Classification

They can be subdivided into different subgroups depending on the carbon of the C ring on which B ring is attached, and the degree of unsaturation and oxidation of the C ring.
Flavonoids in which B ring is linked in position 3 of the ring C are called isoflavones; those in which B ring is linked in position 4, neoflavonoids, while those in which the B ring is linked in position 2 can be further subdivided into several subgroups on the basis of the structural features of the C ring. These subgroup are: flavones, flavonols, flavanones, flavanonols, flavanols or catechins and anthocyanins.
Finally, flavonoids with open C ring are called chalcones.

Flavonoids: the Subgroups
Fig. 2 – Flavonoid Subgroups
  • Flavones
    They have a double bond between positions 2 and 3 and a ketone in position 4 of the C ring. Most flavones of vegetables and fruits has a hydroxyl group in position 5 of the A ring, while the hydroxylation in other positions, for the most part in position 7 of the A ring or 3′ and 4′ of the B ring may vary according to the taxonomic classification of the particular vegetable or fruit.
    Glycosylation occurs primarily on position 5 and 7, methylation and acylation on the hydroxyl groups of the B ring.
    Some flavones, such as nobiletin and tangeretin, are polymethoxylated.
  • Flavonols
    Compared to flavones, they have a hydroxyl group in position 3 of the C ring, which may also be glycosylated. Again, like flavones, flavonols are very diverse in methylation and hydroxylation patterns as well, and, considering the different glycosylation patterns, they are perhaps the most common and largest subgroup of flavonoids in fruits and vegetables. For example, quercetin is present in many plant foods.
  • Flavanones
    Flavanones, also called dihydroflavones, have the C ring saturated; therefore, unlike flavones, the double bond between positions 2 and 3 is saturated and this is the only structural difference between the two subgroups of flavonoids.
    The flavanones can be multi-hydroxylated, and several hydroxyl groups can be glycosylated and/or methylated.
    Some have unique patterns of substitution, for example, furanoflavanones, prenylated flavanones, pyranoflavanones or benzylated flavanones, giving a great number of substituted derivatives.
    Over the past 15 years, the number of flavanones discovered is significantly increased.
  • Flavanonols
    Flavanonols, also called dihydroflavonols, are the 3-hydroxy derivatives of flavanones; they are an highly diversified and multisubstituted subgroup.
  • Isoflavones
    As anticipated, isoflavones are a subgroup of flavonoids in which the B ring is attached to position 3 of the C ring. They have structural similarities to estrogens, such as estradiol, and for this reason they are also called phytoestrogens.Neoflavonoids
    They have the B ring attached to position 4 of the C ring.
  • Flavanols or flavan-3-ols or catechins
    Flavanols are also referred to flavan-3-ols as the hydroxyl group is almost always bound to position 3 of C ring; they are called catechins as well.
    flavanols to have two chiral centers in the molecule, on positions 2 and 3, then four possible diastereoisomers. Epicatechin is the isomer with the cis configuration and catechin is the one with the trans configuration. Each of these configurations has two stereoisomers, namely, (+)-epicatechin and (-)-epicatechin, (+)-catechin and (-)-catechin.
    (+)-Catechin and (-)-epicatechin are the two isomers most often present in edible plants.
    Another important feature of flavanols, particularly of catechin and epicatechin, is the ability to form polymers, called proanthocyanidins or condensed tannins. The name “proanthocyanidins” is due to the fact that an acid-catalyzed cleavage produces anthocyanidins.
    Proanthocyanidins typically contain 2 to 60 monomers of flavanols.
    Monomeric and oligomeric flavanols (containing 2 to 7 monomers) are strong antioxidants.
  • Anthocyanidins
    Chemically, anthocyanidins are flavylium cations and are generally present as chloride salts.
    They are the only group of flavonoids that gives plants colors (all other flavonoids are colorless).
    Anthocyanins are glycosides of anthocyanidins. Sugar units are bound mostly to position 3 of the C ring and they are often conjugated with phenolic acids, such as ferulic acid.
    The color of the anthocyanins depends on the pH and also by methylation or acylation at the hydroxyl groups on the A and B rings.
  • Chalcones
    Chalcones and dihydrochalcones are flavonoids with open structure; they are classified as flavonoids because they have similar synthetic pathways.

References

de la Rosa L.A., Alvarez-Parrilla E., Gonzàlez-Aguilar G.A. Fruit and vegetable phytochemicals: chemistry, nutritional value, and stability. 1th Edition. Wiley J. & Sons, Inc., Publication, 2010

Han X., Shen T. and Lou H. Dietary polyphenols and their biological significance. Int J Mol Sci 2007;9:950-988. doi:10.3390/i8090950

Manach C., Scalbert A., Morand C., Rémésy C., and Jime´nez L. Polyphenols: food sources and bioavailability. Am J Clin Nutr 2004;79(5):727-47 doi:10.1093/ajcn/79.5.727

Tsao R. Chemistry and biochemistry of dietary polyphenols. Nutrients 2010;2:1231-1246. doi:10.3390/nu2121231

Polyphenols: definition, structure and classification

Polyphenols are one of the most important and certainly the most numerous among the groups of phytochemicals present in the plant kingdom.
Currently, over 8000 phenolic structures have been identified, of which more than 4000 belonging to the class of flavonoids, and several hundred occur in edible plants.
However, it is thought that the total content of polyphenols in plants is underestimated as many of the phenolic compounds present in fruits, vegetables and derivatives have not yet been identified, escaping the methods and techniques of analysis used, and the composition in polyphenols for most fruits and some varieties of cereals is not yet known.

They are present in many edible plants, both for men and animals, and it is thought to be their presence, along with that of other molecules such as carotenoids, vitamin C or vitamin E, the responsible for the healthy effects of fruits and vegetables.
In the human diet, they are the most abundant natural antioxidants, and the main sources are fruits, vegetables, whole grains, but also other types of foods and beverages derived from them, such as red wine, rich in resveratrol, the extra virgin olive oil, rich in hydroxytyrosol, chocolate or tea, in particularly green tea, rich in epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG).

CONTENTS

Chemical structure of polyphenols

The term polyphenols refers to a wide variety of molecules that can be divided into many subclasses, subdivisions that can be made on the basis of their origin, biological function, or chemical structure.
Chemically, they are compounds with structural phenolic features, which can be associated with different organic acids and carbohydrates.

Polyphenols: Phenolic Skeleton
Fig. 1 – Phenol

In plants, the most part of them are linked to sugars, and therefore they are in the form of glycosides. Carbohydrates and organic acids can be bound in different positions on polyphenol skeletons.
Among polyphenols, there are simple molecules, such as phenolic acids, or complex structures such as proanthocyanidins, that are highly polymerized molecules.

Classification

They can be classified into different classes, according to the number of phenolic rings in their structure, the structural elements that bind these rings each others, and the substituents linked to the rings.

Polyphenols: Flavonoid Skeleton
Fig. 2 – Flavonoid Skeleton

Therefore, two main groups can then be identified: the flavonoids group and the non-flavonoid group.
Flavonoids share a structure formed by two aromatic rings, indicated as A and B, linked together by three carbon atoms forming an oxygenated heterocycle, the C ring; they can be further subdivided into six main subclasses, as a function of the type of heterocycle (the C ring) that is involved:

Non-flavonoids can be subdivided into:

  • simple phenols
  • phenolic acids
  • benzoic aldehydes
  • hydrolyzable tannins
  • acetophenones and phenylacetic acids
  • hydroxycinnamic acids
  • coumarins
  • benzophenones
  • xanthones
  • stilbenes;
  • lignans
  • secoiridoids

Variability of polyphenol content of plant and plant products

Although several classes of phenolic molecules, such as quercetin (a flavonol), are present in most plant foods (tea, wine, cereals, legumes, fruits, fruit juices, etc.), other classes are found only in a particular type of food (e.g. flavanones in citrus, isoflavones in soya, phloridzin in apples, etc.).

Polyphenols: Quercetin
Fig. 3 – Quercetin

However, it is common that different types of polyphenols are in the same product; for example, apples contain flavanols, chlorogenic acid, hydroxycinnamic acids, glycosides of phloretin, glycosides of quercetin and anthocyanins.
The polyphenol composition may also be influenced by other parameters such as environmental factors, the degree of ripeness at harvest time, household or industrial processing, storage, and plant variety. From currently available data, it seems that the fruits with the highest content of polyphenols are strawberries, lychees and grapes, and the vegetables are artichokes, parsley and brussels sprouts. Melons and avocados have the lowest concentrations.

References

de la Rosa L.A., Alvarez-Parrilla E., Gonzàlez-Aguilar G.A. Fruit and vegetable phytochemicals: chemistry, nutritional value, and stability. 1th Edition. Wiley J. & Sons, Inc., Publication, 2010

Han X., Shen T. and Lou H. Dietary polyphenols and their biological significance. Int J Mol Sci 2007;9:950-988. doi:10.3390/i8090950

Manach C., Scalbert A., Morand C., Rémésy C., and Jime´nez L. Polyphenols: food sources and bioavailability. Am J Clin Nutr 2004;79(5):727-47 doi:10.1093/ajcn/79.5.727

Tsao R. Chemistry and biochemistry of dietary polyphenols. Nutrients 2010;2:1231-1246. doi:10.3390/nu2121231

Human health and carotenoids

Carotenoids belong to the category of bioactive compounds taken up with diet, that is, molecules able to provide protection against many diseases such as cardiovascular diseases, cancer and macular degeneration. They are also important for the proper functioning of the immune system.
Among the mechanisms that seem to be at the basis of their human health-promoting effects have been reported (Olson, 1999, see References):

  • the capability to quench singlet oxygen (see above);
  • the scavenging of peroxyl radicals and reactive nitrogen species;
  • the modulation of carcinogen metabolism;
  • the inhibition of cell proliferation;
  • the enhancement of the immune response;
  • a filtering action of blue light;
  • the enhancement of cell differentiation;
  • stimulation of cell-to-cell communication

Carotenoids and antioxidant activity

Human Health and Carotenoids
Fig. 1 – Free Radical

Carotenoids, with the adaptation of organisms to aerobic environment, and therefore to the presence of oxygen, have offered protection against oxidative damage from free radicals, particularly by singlet oxygen, a powerful oxidizing agent (see also below).
Carotenoids stabilize singlet oxygen acting both chemical and physical point of view:

  • chemical action involves the union between the two molecules;
  • in physical action, the radical transfers its excitation energy to the carotenoid. The result is a low energy free radical and an excited carotenoid; later, the energy acquired by the carotenoid is released as heat to the environment, and the molecule, that remains intact, is ready to carry out another cycle of stabilization of singlet oxygen, and so on.

The capability of carotenoids to quench singlet oxygen is due to the conjugated double-bond system present in the molecule, and the maximum protection is given by those molecules that have nine or more double bonds (moreover, the presence of oxygen in the molecule, as in xanthophylls, seems to have a role).
Carotenoids are involved not only in singlet oxygen quenching, but also in the scavenging of other reactive species both of oxygen, as peroxyl radicals (therefore contributing to the reduction of lipid peroxidation) and nitrogen. These reactive molecules are generated during the aerobic metabolism but also in the pathological processes.

Lycopene, xanthophylls and human health

Lycopene, a carotene, canthaxanthin and astaxanthin, two xanthophylls present in foods of animal origin, are better antioxidants than beta-carotene but also than zeaxanthin that, with lutein, is involved in prevention of age-related macular degeneration.
Lycopene, in addition to act on oxygen free radicals, acts as antioxidant also on the radicals of vitamin C and vitamin E, that are generated during the antioxidant processes in which these vitamins are involved, “repairing them”.
Finally, lycopene exerts its antioxidant action also indirectly, inducing the synthesis of enzymes involved in the protection against the action of oxygen free radicals and other electrophilic species; these enzymes are quinone reductase, glutathione S-transferase and superoxide dismutase (they are part of the enzymatic antioxidant system).

Vitamin A and human health

Vitamin A, whose deficiency affects annually more than 100 million children worldwide, causing more than a million deaths and half million cases of blindness, is a well-known carotenoid derivative with many biological actions, being essential for reproduction, growth, vision, immune function and general human health.
In the human diet, the major sources of vitamin A are the preformed vitamin, which is found in foods of animal origins (meat, milk, eggs, etc), and provitamin A carotenoids, present in fruits and vegetables. In economically deprived countries, fruits and vegetables are the main source of vitamin A being less expensive than food of animal origin.
Of the more than 750 different carotenoids identified in natural sources, only about 50 have provitamin A activity, and among these, beta-carotene (precisely, all-trans-beta-carotene isomer) is the main precursor of the vitamin A.
Among the other carotenoids precursors of vitamin A, alpha-carotene, gamma-carotene, beta-cryptoxanthin, alpha-cryptoxanthin, and beta-carotene-5,6-epoxide have about half the bioactivity of beta-carotene.

Human Health and Vitamin A
Fig. 2 – Provitamin A Activity

Spinach, carrots, pumpkins, sweet potatoes (yellow) are example of vegetables rich in beta-carotene and other provitamin A carotenoids.
Acyclic carotenes, such as lycopene (the main carotenoid in the human diet), and xanthophylls, except those mentioned above (beta-cryptoxanthin, alpha-cryptoxanthin, and beta-carotene-5,6-epoxide), cannot be converted to vitamin A.

References

de la Rosa L.A., Alvarez-Parrilla E., Gonzàlez-Aguilar G.A. Fruit and vegetable phytochemicals: chemistry, nutritional value, and stability. 1th Edition. Wiley J. & Sons, Inc., Publication, 2010

Johnson E.J. The role of carotenoids in human health. Nutr Clin Care 2002;5(2):56-65. doi:10.1046/j.1523-5408.2002.00004.x

Olson, J.A. 1999. Carotenoids. p. 525-541. In: Shils M.E., Olson J.A., Shike M., Ross A.C. “Modern nutrition in health and disease” 9th ed., by Lippincott, Williams & Wilkins, 1999

Ross A.B., Thuy Vuong L., Ruckle J., Synal H.A., Schulze-König T., Wertz K., Rümbeli R., Liberman R.G., Skipper P.L., Tannenbaum S.R., Bourgeois A., Guy P.A., Enslen M., Nielsen I.L.F., Kochhar S., Richelle M., Fay L.B., and Williamson G. Lycopene bioavailability and metabolism in humans: an accelerator mass spectrometry study. Am J Clin Nutr 2011;93:1263-73. doi:10.3945/ajcn.110.008375

Fruits and vegetables in season

Numerous studies showed that seasonality plays a key role in optimizing the antioxidant properties of fruits and vegetables. For example, a recent Chinese study have investigated the influence of growing season (summer vs winter) on the synthesis and accumulation of phenolic compounds and antioxidant properties in five grape cultivars. The study showed that both phenolic compounds and antioxidant properties in the skin and seed of winter berries were significantly higher than those of summer berries for all of the cultivars investigated. Finally, to choose seasonal vegetables and fruits also ensures considerable saving of money.

List of vegetables and fruits in season

Fruits and Vegetables: Fruits in Season
Fig. 1 – Fruits in Season
Fruits and Vegetables: Vegetables in Season
Fig. 2 – Vegetables in Season
References

Xu C., Zhang Y., Zhu L., Huang Y., and Jiang Lu J. Influence of growing season on phenolic compounds and antioxidant properties of grape berries from vines Grown in Subtropical Climate. J Agric Food Chem 2011:59(4);1078-1086. doi:10.1021/jf104157z