Prescription: Colors for Oxidative Stress
Protecting you from oxidative stress - what Mom really meant when she told you to eat your vegetables.
Scientific studies have confirmed that people who eat more fruit and vegetables, particularly more deeply coloured varieties, have fewer diseases associated with oxidative stress. This includes heart disease, cancer, diabetes, osteoporosis, and age-related neurological decline.
The secret is in the colors.
Increasingly, many health researchers have turned their attention to plant pigments - light-harvesting molecules that selectively absorb certain bandwidths of visble light and reflect others.
The reflected wavelengths are the colors that we see in flowers, foliage, fruit, and vegetables. It's the pigments that deliver a variety of health-protecting benefits to the plants that make them.
"Plants are the master chemists," saya Mary Ann Lila, who directs the Plants for Humans Institute at North Carolina State University. "Because plants can't move around, they have to manufacture what they need not merely to grow, but to defend, protect and heal themselves. It makes sense to study whether compounds that plants produce in response to stress would help a human under similar circumstances."
The first plant pigment - chlorophyll - appeared on Earth some 2.5 billion years ago. It initiates the photosynthetic reactions that porduce most of the food and oxygen that sustain most animal life on Earth.
"Get the most variety of colorful fruit and vegetables you can, the most heaply You can't overdose on vegetables." - Dr James A. Duke, retired USDA ethnobotanist and world-renowned authortiy on medicinal plants
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Some pigments aid photosynthesis. Others serve higher plants by attracting polinators to their flowers and seed-dispersing animals to their fruit.
Pigments protect plants from solar radiation, oxidative stress, environmental stress, and attacks by microbes, insects, and animal predators. Pigments also heal damaged plant tissue, help to regulate growth, and act in many other ways still undiscovered.
Innumerable challenges face researches looking to quantify human health benefits of plant pigments and other compounds that plants produce. For example:
• What provokes a plant to make more or less of a certain pigment?
• How do storage, processing, and cooking methods affect pigments?
• What is the fate of certain pigments in the human body?
• Are beneftis to humans from plant compounds affected by genetics and/or diet?
Beverly Clevidence (a research nutritionist for the USARS since 1984) foresees the day
"when individulas will receive 'phyto-nutrition' prescriptions tailored to their specific needs.
Perhaps someday we will be saying, 'You're more likely to die of this type of cancer than heart disease, and you lack this particular enzyme, so you should eat more of this or that fruit or vegetable.'"
"For now," she continues, "we should apply what we know. Eat more fruit and vegetables - yes, brightly and deeply colored - but don't forget garlic, onions, and apples."
Article By Margaret Boyles The Old Farmer's Almanac, Canadian Edition, 2011, No. CCXIX, Copyright 2010 by Yankee Publishing Inc.
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