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Flavonoids are a group of plant metabolites that are thought to provide health benefits through cell signaling pathways and antioxidant effects. Flavonoids are polyphenolic molecules containing 15 carbon atoms that are soluble in water. They consist of two benzene rings connected by a short three-carbon chain. One carbon atom in this chain is attached to a carbon atom in one of the benzene rings either by an oxygen bridge or directly, resulting in a third intermediate ring. Flavonoids can be divided into six subtypes such as chalcones, flavones, isoflavones, flavanones, anthocyanins and anthocyanidins.
Flavonoids have properties that inhibit oxidation, reduce inflammation, prevent gene mutations and fight the development of cancer. They also help regulate cellular enzyme function (proteins that stimulate chemical reactions in cells).
Polyphenols and flavonoids found in a variety of plants, including fruits and vegetables, have positive effects on the treatment of heart disease and high blood pressure. Due to their antioxidant properties, flavonoids reduce the oxidation of LDL and help to improve blood lipid profiles. This can reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease.
Another positive effect is their ability to contribute to vasodilation (blood vessel dilation) and to regulate the process of programmed cell death in endothelial cells (the lining of blood vessels).
Diabetes is recognized by elevated blood glucose levels or increased insulin resistance. Consumption of flavonoid-rich foods modulates carbohydrate digestion, insulin signaling and secretion, glucose uptake and fat deposition. Flavonoids target molecules that improve beta cell proliferation (insulin-producing cells in the pancreas), promote insulin secretion, reduce apoptosis (programmed cell death) and improve hyperglycemia by regulating glucose metabolism in the liver.
Flavonoids have anti-cancer activity and trap free radicals that can damage macromolecules, including DNA. Other anti-cancer activities include blocking enzymes involved in the metabolism of compounds such as drugs, toxins, carcinogens and steroid hormones, potentially preventing their conversion into cancer-causing chemicals and possibly causing them to be excreted by the body.
Flavonoids have therapeutic effects as powerful anti-inflammatory, analgesic (pain relief) and antioxidant molecules in cardiovascular disease, osteoarthritis, Parkinson's disease, colitis, cancer pain, arthritis and neuropathic pain. Flavonoids block many cellular regulatory proteins, such as cytokines and transcription factors (proteins involved in the conversion or transcription of DNA into RNA). This leads to a reduction in the cellular inflammatory response and a reduction in chronic pain.
Flavonoids are considered to be effective antiviral agents that can act at different stages of viral infections, particularly at the molecular level to stop viral growth.
Almost all fruits, vegetables and herbs contain some amount of flavonoids. They are also found in other food sources, including dried beans, grains, red wine, and green and black teas. The general rule is that the richer the color of the food, the richer the flavonoid content. However, oranges are an exception to this rule, as the flavonoids contained in this fruit are found primarily in the white color of the peel and inside the flesh.
The best way to ensure a high intake of flavonoids is to consume plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables every day. Experts recommend eating five servings of vegetables and four servings of fruit. Regarding the intake of red wine, men should not exceed two glasses per day and women should not exceed one glass per day.
Flavonoid supplements are also available, but people who buy such products should be aware that experts have not yet determined what the ideal intake of flavonoids is and that too much intake may even be harmful.