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Amy Smith, FNP: The Nutritional Power of Phytonutrients

Amy Smith, FNP at Barton Family PracticeHippocrates, a physician and philosopher of health, said: “Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.”

Food is often underestimated as an effective medicine. One collection of ingredients gaining attention are phytonutrients. Phytonutrients, sometimes called phytochemicals, are nutrients found in plants that contribute to its vitality. They can be found in a variety of plant-based foods and research shows when humans consume phytonutrients, they interact with the body and promote healing. 

Here are some examples of foods rich in phytonutrients that you can eat in your daily diet and help improve your overall health. 

Cruciferous Vegetables 
Brussels sprouts, kale, broccoli, and cabbage are rich in a group of phytonutrients called indoles. Indoles have been found to lower the risk of breast, prostate, lung, stomach, colon, and rectal cancers. In one study, participants who consumed at least one cruciferous vegetable per day decreased their risk of breast cancer by 40% (Terry, 2001). In a separate study, men who ate three or more servings of cruciferous vegetables a week compared to their peers who consumed less than one serving a week reduced their risk of prostate cancer by 40% (Cohen, 2000). 

Berries and Cherries
Blueberries, cranberries, elderberries, raspberries, cherries, blackberries, and the skin of red grapes contain phytonutrients with antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. Research confirms a high intake of berries and cherries can slow cognitive decline and reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease by preventing accumulation of LDL or “bad cholesterol” (Devore, 2012; Stojanovic, 2001; Gonzalez-Gallego, 2010; Landberg, 2011; Rotelli, 2003). These phytonutrients also help prevent cancer and inhibit cancer growth (Catalgol, 2012; Zhu, 2012; Aziz, 2003). 

Turmeric and Piperine 
Turmeric, a spice in the ginger family, contains the phytonutrient curcumin. Curcumin is an antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and anti-cancer agent. It reduces the risk of Alzheimer’s, and multiple studies support the use of curcumin for joint inflammation, tendinitis, and inflammatory bowel disease (Blaylock, 2012; Hanai, 2009; Mindura-Kiela, 2012). Increase daily turmeric intake of with supplements or by adding the spice to soups, teas, and smoothies. For the best phytonutrient absorption from turmeric, pair it with piperine, an ingredient in black pepper.

The Whole Rainbow 
Try to eat a rainbow of fruits and vegetables daily. Lycopene is a carotenoid phytonutrient found in watermelons, pink grapefruits, guavas, apricots and tomatoes. It is best absorbed from processed or cooked tomato products such as tomato sauce, paste, and soup. It is a potent antioxidant and has been suggested to prevent cancer and cardiovascular disease (Agarwal, 2000; Pool-Zobel, 1997). Lycopene is one of six types of carotenoids. Other colorful fruits and vegetables that contain carotenoids include carrots, tangerines, sweet potatoes, spinach, kale and cantaloupe. 

These are just a few phytonutrients that studies show have positive health benefits. Consume regularly, and aim for eating at least five servings a fruits and vegetables a day. 

For a complete reference list of sources mentioned in this article, visit Barton Health’s news page, bartonhealth.org/news.

Amy Smith, FNP is a University of Arizona Medicine Fellow under Andrew Weil, MD. She sees patients at Stateline Family Practice for check-ups, medical conditions, and preventative care. Call 775-589-8900 to schedule an appointment with Amy or visit bartonhealth.org for a full list of services available.


Sources

"Tomato lycopene and its role in human health and chronic diseases." Agarwal S, Rao AV. Tomato lycopene and its role in human health and chronic diseases. CMAJ : Canadian Medical Association journal = journal de l'Association medicale canadienne 163(6):739-44 Sep, 2000

"Cancer chemoprevention by resveratrol: in vitro and in vivo studies and the underlying mechanisms (review)." Aziz MH, Kumar R, Ahmad N. Cancer chemoprevention by resveratrol: in vitro and in vivo studies and the underlying mechanisms (review). International journal of oncology 23(1):17-28 Jul, 2003

"Natural plant products and extracts that reduce immunoexcitotoxicity-associated neurodegeneration and promote repair within the central nervous system." Blaylock RL, Maroon J. Natural plant products and extracts that reduce immunoexcitotoxicity-associated neurodegeneration and promote repair within the central nervous system. Surgical neurology international 319 2012

"Resveratrol: French paradox revisited." Catalgol B, Batirel S, Taga Y, Ozer NK. Resveratrol: French paradox revisited. Frontiers in pharmacology 3141 2012

"Fruit and vegetable intakes and prostate cancer risk." Cohen JH, Kristal AR, Stanford JL. Fruit and vegetable intakes and prostate cancer risk. Journal of the National Cancer Institute 92(1):61-8 Jan, 2000

"Dietary intakes of berries and flavonoids in relation to cognitive decline." Devore EE, Kang JH, Breteler MM, Grodstein F. Dietary intakes of berries and flavonoids in relation to cognitive decline. Ann. Neurol. 72(1):135-43 Jul, 2012 

"Fruit polyphenols, immunity and inflammation." González-Gallego J, García-Mediavilla MV, Sánchez-Campos S, Tuñón MJ. Fruit polyphenols, immunity and inflammation. The British journal of nutrition 104 Suppl 3S15-27 Oct, 2010

"Curcumin has bright prospects for the treatment of inflammatory bowel disease." Hanai H, Sugimoto K. Curcumin has bright prospects for the treatment of inflammatory bowel disease. Current pharmaceutical design 15(18):2087-94 2009 

"Selected dietary flavonoids are associated with markers of inflammation and endothelial dysfunction in U.S. women." Landberg R, Sun Q, Rimm EB, Cassidy A, Scalbert A, Mantzoros CS, Hu FB, van Dam RM. Selected dietary flavonoids are associated with markers of inflammation and endothelial dysfunction in U.S. women. The Journal of nutrition 141(4):618-25 Apr, 2011

"Curcumin inhibits interferon-γ signaling in colonic epithelial cells." Midura-Kiela MT, Radhakrishnan VM, Larmonier CB, Laubitz D, Ghishan FK, Kiela PR. Curcumin inhibits interferon-γ signaling in colonic epithelial cells. American journal of physiology. Gastrointestinal and liver physiology 302(1):G85-96 Jan, 2012

"Consumption of vegetables reduces genetic damage in humans: first results of a human intervention trial with carotenoid-rich foods." Pool-Zobel BL, Bub A, Müller H, Wollowski I, Rechkemmer G. Consumption of vegetables reduces genetic damage in humans: first results of a human intervention trial with carotenoid-rich foods. Carcinogenesis 18(9):1847-50 Sep, 1997

"Comparative study of flavonoids in experimental models of inflammation." Rotelli AE, Guardia T, Juárez AO, de la Rocha NE, Pelzer LE. Comparative study of flavonoids in experimental models of inflammation. Pharmacological research: the official journal of the Italian Pharmacological Society 48(6):601-6 Dec, 2003

"Efficiency and mechanism of the antioxidant action of trans-resveratrol and its analogues in the radical liposome oxidation." Stojanovic S, Sprinz H, Brede O. Efficiency and mechanism of the antioxidant action of trans-resveratrol and its analogues in the radical liposome oxidation. Archives of biochemistry and biophysics 391(1):79-89 Jul, 2001 

"Brassica vegetables and breast cancer risk." Terry P, Wolk A, Persson I, Magnusson C. Brassica vegetables and breast cancer risk. JAMA : the journal of the American Medical Association 285(23):2975-7 Jun, 2001

"Trans-resveratrol alters mammary promoter hypermethylation in women at increased risk for breast cancer." Zhu W, Qin W, Zhang K, Rottinghaus GE, Chen YC, Kliethermes B, Sauter ER. Trans-resveratrol alters mammary promoter hypermethylation in women at increased risk for breast cancer. Nutrition and cancer 64(3):393-400 Apr, 2012