AustinPUG Health

AustinPUG Health

When it comes to talking about healthy foods, both nutritionists and the general public rely on many well-known words and terms to make things understandable, with the deeper details left to the minds that need to know them. This is all well and good if you’re willing to take those in the health sciences field at their word, but the increasing complexity of that field means that we should all work to make ourselves more aware of exactly what effect the things we eat have on our bodies.

Given their potential to fight cancer, reduce risk of heart disease, and more, the powerful potential of flavonoids, relatively obscure compounds, fall under that “need to know” header.

If the only thing standing between you and a better knowledge of what flavonoids are and how they work to improve your body are a few unpronounceable words, then allow me a few minutes of your time as I try to put things into words that we can all understand – though I can’t make any promises on pronunciation!

What are Flavonoids?

The word flavonoids, also sometimes called bioflavonoids, vitamin P, or citrin, refers to a whole class of so-called secondary metabolites found in plants. This class consists of three basic types of compounds, each covering an array of chemicals, and each with increasingly strange scientific names and structures; don’t get lost in the vernacular, but for your reference, they are:

  • Base flavonoids, derived from a chemical structure called 2-phenylchromen-4-one
  • Isoflavonoids, derived from a chemical structure called 3-phenylchromen-4-one
  • Neoflavonoids, derived from a chemical structure called 4-phenylcoumarine

While structurally different, all three of these types of flavonoids are distinguished by their containing ketones, a compound used by plants, and some animals, including humans, when sufficient amounts of glucose are not available to supply cells with the energy they need to work.

Why Do Plants Make Flavonoids?

While it may seem that some plants produce ketone-rich flavonoids only for the benefit of the animals who are destined to eat them, they actually serve a variety of very non-human purposes in plants, making them no less valuable to plant life forms such as rhizobia and cocoa than they are to us.

Generally, flavonoids work to protect the plants that produce them from insects by secreting chemicals that are harmful to them, even while stimulating the production of yellow, red, and blue pigmentation in flowers, helping pollinating insects to better identify them. Specifically speaking, different plants use flavonoids in different manners, far too many to detail here, but they are typically used as chemical markers, helping plants to “remember” to begin, end, or modify other processes on the road to their own healthy growth.

How Flavonoids Benefit Your Health

Given that flavonoids can be found in most plants that we consume, our diet is absolutely chock full of them under most circumstances, providing us with a variety of benefits, some of them well-understood, while others remains shrouded in mystery even as new studies are being undertaken to crack their secrets.

What We Know

The most apparent and easy to understand effect of flavonoids on the human body is their ability to antioxidize so-called free radicals that run amuck in our bloodstream and tissues, preventing the abnormal growth of cells, reducing inflammation in tissues, and helping to keep arteries clear of potentially dangerous debris. These effects, known in many other compounds, as well, have been shown time and again to help to decrease the risk of health problems such as heart disease, and even cancer.

The ketones contained in flavonoids are also helpful for their ability to take over where glucose leaves off during times of reduced diet. In humans, when glucose runs out, the body immediately turns instead to stored body fat as a source of cell energy, releasing the ketones found in that fat into the bloodstream in order to compensate for the lack of glucose.

Because of this effect, ketones have become a crucial marker when testing for diabetes.

What We Think We Know

The real question left where our knowledge of flavonoids ends is one that asks just how effective they are in the human body; while the work they do is undisputed, how useful flavonoids are in patients facing serious medical problems is still something of an open debate.

Early studies indicate that flavonoids consumed in the right amounts could have real and measurable anti-cancer properties, mostly due to their ability to eliminate cell-altering free radicals, especially in cases of environmental pollution such as that caused by smoking and generally poor air quality. There is also some evidence of anti-allergy effects in the ability of flavonoids to act as “response modifiers,” helping to teach the body to respond differently to stimuli that otherwise cause issues, such as pet dander and pollen.

Where to Get Flavonoids

Given just how common they are in a wide variety of plants, you can ensure that you’re getting enough flavonoids by indulging in many foods; here is a quick look at three of the most common:

Dark Berries

Everyday berries are great sources of flavonoids, working under a general rule that the darker a berry’s color, particularly those that are red, blue, and purple, the higher levels of flavonoids it contains.

Blueberries and red cranberries offer the flavonoids quercetin and myricetin, while blackberries and black grapes provide the compounds epicatechin and catechin. Red berries, such as cherries, raspberries, and red grapes contain high levels of flavonoids called anthocyanins and cyanidin.

Dark Chocolate

Because cocoa, the plant behind everyone’s favorite sweet treat, contains a host of flavonoids, eating dark chocolate is a great way to ensure that you’re getting a good dose of them. Of course, milk chocolate won’t do the same trick, but the trade-off is a smart one, even if your taste buds don’t agree.

Dark Vegetables

Sticking with the “darker is better” rule, dark green and red vegetables such as bell peppers, eggplants, and tomatoes are very high in members of the flavonoid family, including quercetin and luteolin, while red and green onions provide an unbeatable dose of quercetin alone. For the flavonoids apigenin, luteolin, kaempferol, you can turn to dark green veggies like broccoli, celery, and artichokes.

Given how common these foods are, it’s likely that you’re already getting a good dose of compounds from the flavonoid family as it stands, leaving you with no further work to do as you chase after their healthy benefits. On the other hand, when’s the last time you heard of someone overdosing on veggies? Eating more dark vegetables provides your body with much more than just flavonoids, so feel free to indulge in as many bell peppers and stalks of broccoli as your belly can handle!


More research is needed in order to be sure of the extent of the effectiveness of flavonoids for human health, leaving us in something of a limbo in the meantime. Luckily, because most common diets have you taking in more than enough for day-to-day health, it’s quite likely that you’re already all set, but extended effects of flavonoids for those who find themselves battling problems that have escalated beyond the body’s control may be just around the corner!


Leave a Reply