Plants as Adaptogens


Plants as Adaptogens:  First Plants…Then People.


“Phytonutrients are found in the cells of plants and provide protection from the damaging rays of the sun.1

 

“A phytochemical is a natural bioactive compound found in plant foods that works with nutrients and dietary fiber to protect against disease.  Phytochemicals fight to protect your health.  They can have complementary and overlapping mechanisms of action in the body, including antioxidant effect, modulation of detoxification enzymes, stimulation of the immune system, modulation of hormone metabolism, and antibacterial and antiviral effect.”2


“Plants have evolved many protective defenses against pests and infection in the form of phytonutrients.  These defenses are better developed in organic foods because of selective adaptive pressures necessary to resist pests, infections, and variable climate conditions.  Organic foods provides higher concentrations of protective detoxifying, antioxidant, and anti-inflammatory phytonutrients.”3

 

Plants have always stood at the frontier, adapting and changing to assure our own survival.  At the beginning of life on the planet, the earliest plants entered the scene with little free oxygen in the atmosphere.  In these early times, as plants took in carbon dioxide and gave off oxygen as a by-product of their own metabolic processes, they brought greater and greater levels of “pollution” to their environment.4

 

Today, plants continue at the frontier of change, able to transform themselves to assure our own well-being.  They adapt to environmental conditions and to shifts in climate far faster than we can.  As Ruth Grene suggests:

 

“One of the most crucial functions of plant cells is their ability to respond to fluctuations in their environment.  Understanding the connections between a plant’s initial responses and the downstream events that constitute successful adjustment to its altered environment is one of the next grand challenges of plant biology.”5

 

Plants also adapt to local conditions:  Plant foods in one local area of the world are uniquely suited to sustain human life in that same area.  Tropical fruits give us a wonderful example of this:  Cantaloupes, dates, figs, and bananas are loaded with sugar and potassium, a product of their intense exposure to the sun.  In a theory offered by John Matsen, N.D., high levels of potassium and sugar send a message to the kidneys that the body is experiencing intense sun exposure (since tropical fruits grow in sun-drenched settings) and that the skin is making a lot of vitamin D.  The kidneys then curtail their effort to activate vitamin D.  This is one reason that eating tropical fruits in northern climates in the dead of winter can confuse the body and exacerbate vitamin D deficiency … something experienced by so many people, particularly in the winter months.6

 

Many herbs are powerful adaptogens.7  Throughout time, they have provided traditional cultures with healing and restorative tonics needed to survive harsh, threatening conditions associated with specific locations.  Plants and herbs that grow in the wild and under rugged conditions are nutrient dense and generally more tonifying than plants grown in the controlled setting of commercial farms.

 

Rainbow Colors:  Pigments Give Clues for Health and Vitality.


Phytonutrients are generally associated with a variety of plant pigments which give color…deep yellow, orange, red, green, blue, and purple… to fruits and vegetables.  These colors signal the presence of rich phytonutrients.  A variety of pigments are required to capture the sun’s full spectrum of light in all its rainbow colors.  We might imagine these pigments as mini specialized factories, providing their own vast array of phytochemicals in a mystery that science may never unravel.

 

But let’s back up a minute.  You probably recall from biology how pigment affects the color of plants:  A leaf appears to us to be green in color because it reflects the green rays of UV sunlight, while absorbing the other colors (reds, oranges, yellows, blues and purples) of the spectrum.

 

Chlorophylls are the pigments involved in the process of photosynthesis.8  There are different types and each absorbs different colors of light along the red and blue part of the spectrum.  Other compounds, like the brown, red/orange, and yellow carotenoids also play an important role.  They work as complementary pigments that absorb colors that cannot be taken up by the chlorophylls, thus assuring that the full spectrum of sun energy can be utilized in the process of photosynthesis.  How remarkable!…  each pigment making its own unique sets of nutrients to benefit our health.  As fall approaches and chlorophyll fades, we can truly appreciate in the vibrant reds, yellows, and oranges of autumn foliage, the unveiling of these complementary and essential pigments.9

 

Plant Sunscreens:  Phytonutrients Protect Chlorophyll from the Sun’s Radiation.


Chlorophyll, along with its supplementary pigments, converts the sun’s energy into glucose, which becomes the building block of phytonutrients.  But, as Lisa Ganor comments,

 

“Chlorophyll can’t work alone.  Being a complicated molecule, it’s also quite delicate.  It needs protection from the harsh UV rays in the sun’s energy spectrum.  Too much ultraviolet, and photosynthesis begins to release an excess of damaging free radicals…

 

“The free radicals generated by strong UV light could destroy the sensitive chlorophyll, but they don’t; the plant has its own built-in antioxidants.”10

 

Carotenoids and perhaps other contributing pigments that we do not fully understand go to work to protect chlorophyll from free-radical damage, just as they perform this same function in our body, protecting our cell membranes and blood lipids from oxidation.

 

The Mystery of a Tomato


When we think of a tomato, we think of lycopene.  But a simple tomato is estimated to contain over 10,00011 phytonutrients.  While we may never understand everything about a tomato, we do know phytonutrients work in mysterious synergy with other nutrients and fiber.  So far, a complete biochemical profile has been attempted on only very few fruits and vegetables.

 

Fortunately, of course, we do not have to understand to be in awe of the fractal patterns of a head of broccoli or the deep marbling art displayed by a sliced section of carrot or beet.  We can just marvel at the pigments that capture the full spectrum of light and convert this light energy into an equally broad spectrum of life-giving protections and medicines that we can use for our own health and vitality.

 

Copyright 2010 Pathways4Health.org

 

 

Phytochemicals in Fruits and Vegetables12

 

Carotenoids
Carotenoids are the pigments responsible for the colors of many red, green, yellow and orange fruits and vegetables. Carotenoids are a large family of phytochemicals which include alpha-carotene, beta-carotene, lutein, lycopene, cryptoxanthin, canthaxanthin, zeaxanthin, and others.

Carotenoids protect the body by decreasing risk of heart disease, stroke, blindness, and certain types of cancer. They may also help to slow the aging process, reduce complications associated with diabetes, and improve lung function. Fruits and vegetables that are dark green, yellow, orange or red contain carotenoids.The following information describes four of the carotenoids.

Beta-Carotene
Beta-Carotene may help to slow the aging process, reduce the risk of certain types of cancer, improve lung function, and reduce complications associated with diabetes. Beta-carotene is found in yellow-orange fruits and vegetables such as mangoes, cantaloupe, apricots, papaya, kiwifruit, carrots, pumpkins, sweet potatoes, and winter squash, and green vegetables, such as broccoli, spinach, and kale.

Lutein
Lutein is essential for maintaining proper vision as we age. It has been shown to reduce the risk of cataracts and macular degeneration, the leading causes of blindness in older people and may help reduce the risk of certain types of cancer. Kale, spinach and collard greens contain the most lutein of any fruit or vegetable. Other sources of lutein include kiwifruit, broccoli, collard greens, brussels sprouts, swiss chard, and romaine lettuce.

Lycopene
Diets rich in lycopene have been shown to reduce the risk of prostate cancer and heart disease. Lycopene is found in red fruits and vegetables such as tomatoes and cooked tomato products, red peppers, pink grapefruit, watermelon.

Zeaxanthin
Zeaxanthin may help to prevent macular degeneration, which is the leading cause of visual impairment in people over 50. It may also help to prevent certain types of cancer. Corn, spinach, winter squash, and egg yolks contain zeaxanthin.

Flavonoids
Flavonoids are another large family of protective phytochemicals found in fruits and vegetables. Flavonoids, also called bioflavonoids, act as antioxidants. Antioxidants neutralize or inactivate highly unstable and extremely reactive molecules, called free radicals, that attack the cells of our body every day. Free radical damage is believed to contribute to a variety of health problems, including cancer, heart disease and aging. There are many different types of flavonoids and each appears to have protective health effects. Some of the better known flavonoids include resveratrol, anthocyanins, quercetin, hesperidin, tangeritin, kaempferol, myricetin, and apigenin. Flavonoids are found in a variety of foods, such as oranges, kiwifruit, grapefruit, tangerines, berries, apples, red grapes, red wine, broccoli, onions, and green tea. The five primary flavonoids found in fruits and vegetables are:

Resveratrol
Resveratrol may reduce the risk of heart disease, cancer, blood clots and stroke. Red grapes, red grape juice, and red wine contain resveratrol.

Anthocyanins
Anthocyanins, which are particularly high in blueberries, have been shown to protect against the signs of aging. In one study, elderly rats that ate the equivalent of a half-cup of blueberries daily for eight weeks improved balance, coordination, and short-term memory. Scientists think these results may apply to humans as well.

Anthocyanins in blueberries and cranberries have also been shown to help prevent urinary tract infections. Blueberries, cherries, strawberries, kiwifruit, and plums contain anthocyanins.

Quercetins
Quercetins may reduce inflammation associated with allergies, inhibit the growth of head and neck cancers, and protect the lungs from the harmful effects of pollutants and cigarette smoke. Apples, pears, cherries, grapes, onions, kale, broccoli, leaf lettuce, garlic, green tea, and red wine contain quercetins.

Hesperidin
Hesperidin is a flavonoid that may protect against heart disease. Hesperidin is found in citrus fruits and fruit juices, such as oranges and orange juice, grapefruit and grapefruit juice, tangerines, lemons, limes, mandarins, and tangelos.

Tangeritin
Tangeritin may help prevent cancers of the head and neck. Tangeritin is found in citrus fruits and their juices.

Phenolic Compounds
Phenolic compounds may reduce the risk of heart disease and certain types of cancer. Phenolic compounds may be found in berries, prunes, red grapes and red grape juice, kiwifruit, currants, apples and apple juice, and tomatoes.

Ellagic Acid
Ellagic acid is a phenolic compound that may reduce the risk of certain types of cancer and decrease cholesterol levels. Ellagic acid is found in red grapes, kiwifruit, blueberries, raspberries, strawberries, blackberries, and currants.

Sulphoraphane
Sulphoraphane is in a class of phytochemicals called isothiocyanates. Sulphoraphane may reduce the risk of colon cancer. Cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli sprouts, broccoli, cauliflower, kale, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, bok choy, collard greens, turnips and turnip greens contain sulphoraphane.

Limonene
Limonene is in a class of phytochemicals called mono-terpenes. It is found in the rinds and the edible white membranes of citrus fruits, such as oranges, grapefruit, tangerines, lemons and limes. Limonene may help to protect the lungs and reduce the risk of certain types of cancer.

Indoles
This family of phytochemicals may reduce the risk of certain types of cancer, including breast cancer. Indoles are found in cruciferous vegetables, such as broccoli, cauliflower, kale, brussels sprouts, cabbage, bok choy, collard greens, watercress, and turnips and turnip greens.

Allium Compounds
Allium compounds may reduce the risk of certain types of cancer and lower cholesterol and blood pressure. Garlic, onions, chives, leeks, and scallions contain allium compounds.

 

Fruits and Vegetables as a Rich Source of Phytonutrients[1]

Apples and apple juice contain phenolic compounds which may protect against heart disease.

Apricots (fresh and dried) contain beta-carotene which may help slow the aging process, reduce the risk of certain types of cancer, improve lung function, and reduce complications associated with diabetes.

Blackberries contain ellagic acid which may reduce the risk of certain forms of cancer and decrease cholesterol levels.

Blueberries contain anthocyanins which may protect against the effects of aging. Blueberries also contain ellagic acid which may reduce the risk of certain forms of cancer and decrease cholesterol levels.

Bok Choy contains a variety of phytochemicals including sulphoraphane and indoles.

Broccoli contains many different phytochemicals including sulphoraphane, indoles, beta-carotene, lutein, and quercetins. These phytochemicals may help slow the aging process, reduce the risk of certain types of cancer, improve lung function, protect against macular degeneration and cataracts, reduce inflammation associated with allergies, and reduce complications associated with diabetes.

Broccoli sprouts contain sulphoraphane which may reduce the risk of certain types of cancer.

Brussel sprouts contain a variety of phytochemicals including sulphoraphane and indoles. These phytochemicals may reduce the risk of certain types of cancer.

Cabbage contains a variety of phytochemicals including sulphoraphane and indoles. These phytochemicals may reduce the risk of certain types of cancer.

Cantaloupe contains beta-carotene which may help slow the aging process, reduce the risk of certain types of cancer, improve lung function, and reduce complications associated with diabetes.

Carrots contain beta-carotene which may help slow the aging process, reduce the risk of certain types of cancer, improve lung function, and reduce complications associated with diabetes.

Cauliflower contains a variety of phytochemicals including sulphoraphane and indoles. These phytochemicals may reduce the risk of certain types of cancer.

Cherries contain anthocyanins which may protect against the signs of aging. Cherries also contain quercetins which may reduce inflammation associated with allergies, inhibit the growth of head and neck tumors, and protect the lungs from the harmful effects of pollutants and cigarette smoke.

Chives contain allium compounds that may reduce the risk of certain forms of cancer and lower cholesterol and blood pressure.

Citrus fruits, such as oranges, grapefruits, and tangerines contain hesperidin and tangeritin which act as antioxidants to reduce the risk of heart disease and various types of cancer. Citrus fruits also contain limonene which may protect the lungs.

Collard greens contain lutein which may reduce the risk of cataracts and macular degeneration. Collard greens also contain indoles and sulphoraphane which may help decrease the risk of certain types of cancer.

Corn contains zeaxanthin which may help to prevent macular degeneration, which is the leading cause of visual impairment in people over 50.

Currants contain ellagic acid which may reduce the risk of certain forms of cancer and decrease cholesterol levels.

Garlic contains allium compounds which may reduce the risk of certain forms of cancers and lower cholesterol levels and blood pressure. Garlic also contains quercetins which may reduce inflammation associated with allergies, inhibit the growth of head and neck tumors, and protect the lungs from the harmful effects of pollutants and cigarette smoke.

Kale contains a variety of phytochemicals including beta carotene which may help slow the aging process, reduce the risk of certain types of cancer, improve lung function, and reduce complications associated with diabetes and lutein which may reduce the risk of cataracts and macular degeneration. Kale also contains indoles and sulphoraphane which may help decrease cancer risk and quercetins which may reduce inflammation associated with allergies, inhibit the growth of head and neck tumors, and protect the lungs from the harmful effects of pollutants and cigarette smoke.

Kiwifruit contains a variety of phytochemicals, including beta-carotene, lutein, anthocyanins, and ellagic acid. These phytochemicals may reduce the risk of heart disease, certain types of cancer, cataracts, and macular degeneration.

Leaf Lettuce contains quercetins which may reduce inflammation associated with allergies, inhibit the growth of head and neck tumors, and protect the lungs from the harmful effects of pollutants and cigarette smoke.

Leeks contain allium compounds which reduce the risk of certain forms of cancer and may lower cholesterol levels and blood pressure.

Mangoes contain beta-carotene which may help slow the aging process, reduce the risk of certain forms of cancer, improve lung function, and reduce complications associated with diabetes.

Onions contain allium compounds which may reduce the risk of certain forms of cancer and lower cholesterol levels and blood pressure. Onions also contain quercetins which may reduce inflammation associated with allergies, inhibit the growth of head and neck tumors, and protect the lungs from the harmful effects of pollutants and cigarette smoke.

Papaya contain beta-carotene which may help slow the aging process, reduce the risk of certain forms of cancer, improve lung function, and reduce complications associated with diabetes.

Pears contain quercetins which may reduce inflammation associated with allergies, inhibit the growth of head and neck tumors, and protect the lungs from the harmful effects of pollutants and cigarette smoke.

Pink grapefruit contains lycopene which may decrease risk for prostate cancer and heart disease. Pink grapefruit also contains hesperidin and tangeritin which act as antioxidants to reduce the risk of heart disease and various types of cancer as well as limonene which may protect the lungs.

Plums contain anthocyanins which may help protect against the signs of aging.

Prunes contain phenolic compounds which act as antioxidants that may prevent the loss of long-term memory and learning ability.

Pumpkins contain beta-carotene which may help slow the aging process, reduce the risk of certain types of cancer, improve lung function, and reduce complications associated with diabetes.

Raisins contain phenolic compounds that may act as powerful antioxidants to help slow the aging process.

Raspberries contain ellagic acid which may reduce the risk of certain forms of cancer and decrease cholesterol levels.

Red grapes and grape juice contain resveratrol and ellagic acid which may lower the risk of heart disease and certain forms of cancer.. Red grapes also contain quercetins which may reduce inflammation associated with allergies, inhibit the growth of head and neck tumors, and protect the lungs from the harmful effects of pollutants and cigarette smoke.

Red peppers contain lycopene which reduce the risk of prostate cancer and heart disease.

Romaine lettuce contains lutein which may reduce the risk of cataracts and macular degeneration, the leading causes of visual impairment in people over 50.

Scallions contain allium compounds which may reduce the risk of certain forms of cancer and lower cholesterol levels and blood pressure.

Spinach contains beta-carotene which may help slow the aging process, reduce the risk of certain types of cancer, improve lung function, and reduce complications associated with diabetes. Spinach also contains lutein and zeaxanthin which may help prevent blindness. People who eat lots of spinach have a decreased risk of cataracts and macular degeneration, the leading causes of visual impairment in people over 50.

Strawberries contain anthocyanins which may protect against the effects of aging. Strawberries also contain ellagic acid which may reduce the risk of certain forms of cancer and decrease cholesterol levels.

Sweet potatoes contain beta-carotene which may help slow the aging process, reduce the risk of certain types of cancer, improve lung function, and reduce complications associated with diabetes.

Swiss chard contains lutein which may reduce the risk of cataracts and macular degeneration. Swiss chard also contains indoles and sulphoraphane which may help decrease the risk of certain types of cancer.

Tomatoes and cooked tomato products contain lycopene which may decrease risk for prostate cancer and heart disease. Tomato products such as ketchup, tomato juice, and spaghetti sauce are some excellent sources of lycopene.

Turnips contain indoles and sulphoraphane which may help decrease the risk of certain types of cancer.

Watercress contains indoles and sulphoraphane which may help decrease the risk of certain types of cancer.

Watermelon contains lycopene which may decrease risk for prostate cancer and heart disease.

Winter squash contains beta-carotene which may help slow the aging process, reduce the risk of certain forms of cancer, improve lung function, and reduce complications associated with diabetes. Winter squash also contains zeaxanthin which may help to prevent macular degeneration, which is the leading cause of visual impairment in people over 50.


[1]Phytochemical; Another Good Reason to Eat Your Fruits & Vegetables., courtesy www.tonytantillo.com

 

  1. Phytonutrients/Phytochemicals:  Live Long and Healthy; www.associatedcontent.com/article/11402 []
  2. Phytochemicals; Another Good Reason to Eat Your Fruits & Vegetables, www.tonytantillo.com []
  3. Mark Hyman, Alternative Therapies, Mar/Apr, 2010, 57. []
  4. “Ever since the introduction of molecular oxygen (O-2) into our atmosphere, by O-2 evolving photosynthetic organisms, about two billion years ago, reactive oxygen intermediate (ROI) have been the unwelcome companion of aerobic metabolism.  In contrast to O-2, these partially reduced or activated derivatives of oxygen are highly reactive and toxic, and can lead to the oxidative destruction of cells.  Consequently, the evolution of all aerobic organisms has been dependent upon the development of efficient ROI-scavenging mechanisms.  In recent years a new role of ROI was identified:  the control and regulation of biological processes such as programmed cell death, hormonal signaling, stress responses, and development.  These studies extend our understanding or ROI and suggest a dual role for ROI in plant biology:  (a)  Toxic byproducts of aerobic metabolism, and (b) Key regulators of metabolic and defense pathways.”   Oxidative Stress in Plants, www.ag.unr.edu/mittler/oxistress.pdf.))  To survive, the heartiest, through evolution, began to produce antioxidants to give protection against reactive oxygen molecules.  Plants that did survive the “toxic,” stultifying oxygen continued to evolve into the plants of today… not only able to cope with oxygen, but also, through their own biochemical defenses, to ward off bacteria, fungi, viruses, and damage to cell structure, and DNA. (( Molecular Expressions:  The Photochemcial Collection, micro.magnet.fsu.edu./phytochemicals/index. []
  5. Oxidative Stress and Acclimation Mechanisms in Plants, Ruth Grene, www.bioone.org. []
  6. A theory put forth by John Matsen, ND, and quoted in  The Whole Truth, by Andrea Beaman, 61 []
  7. Adaptogens increase “the body’s resistance and endurance to a wide variety of adverse influences from physical, chemical, and biological stressors, assisting the body’s ability to cope and adapt.” The Herbal Medicine Maker’s Handbook, James Greer, 27. []
  8. Chlorophyll a is primary , with supplementary chlorophylls aiding in the process. []
  9. Modern Biology (1999), Albert Towle, 112-3. []
  10. Lisa Ganor, New Life Journal, June-July, 2004. []
  11. Paul Pitchford, Healing with Whole Foods, 9. []
  12. Phytochemical; Another Good Reason to Eat Your Fruits & Vegetables., courtesy of www.tonytantillo.com []