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Anti-inflammatory foods: What are polyphenols and how do they support healthy ageing?

Article-Anti-inflammatory foods: What are polyphenols and how do they support healthy ageing?

© AdobeStock/Africa Studio Happy couple choosing blueberries in market
Polyphenols, organic compounds found abundantly in plants can support healthy ageing. Some have well-known antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, the ability to interact with bacteria living in the human gut and produce helpful postbiotics (such as IPA) known to positively improve health.

The quest to find foods that support the healthy ageing process and boost longevity is certainly not new. For decades, there have been studies observing the Blue Zones, regions of the world where people live the longest, as well as the benefits of the famous polyphenol-rich Mediterranean diet - often full of vegetables, fruits, legumes, nuts and unsaturated fats such as olive oil. The latter has long been considered a healing food for health and longevity. Similarly, the Washoku diet based on traditional Japanese cuisine consists of whole foods rich in seafood and plant-based foods. These kinds of diets coupled with exercise and a lifestyle that limits tobacco and alcohol can all contribute to healthy ageing.

With the growing number of seniors globally there are opportunities for innovative food and drink brands within the older consumer market. New products clearly aimed at this group are far and few between which means food products and ingredients helping to meet the specific nutritional requirements of older consumers and support healthy ageing can stand out.

What are the anti-inflammatory benefits of polyphenols?

There is a growing body of research that shows a diet rich in polyphenols plays an essential role in maintaining good health by boosting the immune system, improving cognitive function, and protecting against inflammation particularly in older people.

In a 2020 review, researchers identified olive oil and other high-fat foods as anti-inflammatory as well as having an overall positive effect on health due to their high polyphenol content. This high polyphenol content in turn works to prevent intestinal microbes from making compounds that damage blood vessels.

Whilst a study published earlier this year in the journal Molecular Nutrition and Food Research noted that polyphenols consumed in foods by seniors alter bacteria present in the gut to produce IPA. This is a postbiotic known for its anti-inflammatory, antioxidant and neuroprotective properties. It also helps to guard against a leaky gut. With such benefits, a higher intake of polyphenols could help to prevent some diseases associated with the ageing process.

© AdobeStock/DanijelaFoods high in polyphenols

A polyphenol-rich diet supports healthy ageing

Much of the food we consume contains complex polyphenols typically found in the outer layers of plants. And a polyphenol-rich diet including probiotic foods such as green tea, dark chocolate, as well as fruits such as blueberries, apples and pomegranate can help reduce the risk of cognitive decline in the elderly.

Moreover, polyphenols can be found in everyday plant-based foods, herbs and spices, red wine and even tempeh. By consuming more polyphenols in their diets, seniors could boost longevity and prevent chronic diseases that affect the quality of life in later years.

With over 8,000 polyphenols found in nature there is much produce to derive health-boosting benefits from. Polyphenols are divided into four different categories: flavonoids, stilbenes, lignans, and phenolic acids and can be found specifically in some of the foods listed below -

  • Flavonoids - fruits, vegetables, legumes, red wine, and green tea
  • Stilbenes - red wine and peanuts
  • Lignans - seeds such as flax, linseed, legumes, cereals, grains, and algae
  • Phenolic acids - coffee, tea, cinnamon, blueberries, kiwis, plums, apples, and cherries

A variety of polyphenol-rich foods taken from each of these four categories will not only provide a holistic health boost for older people, but offer a multitude of other essential vitamins, minerals, and nutrients to improve overall wellbeing. This will help to protect the body from free radicals, defend against UV radiation and harmful germs.

Equally, filling plates with these immunity-boosting compounds positively affects the brain, heart, and digestive health which means consistent consumption of the polyphenol-rich foods listed above will be essential to nourishing the bodies of seniors and supporting healthy ageing.

Functional nutrition: blueberries, green tea and beyond

In a 2018 review from the journal Frontiers in Nutrition, trials found that blueberry extract drinks promote beneficial probiotics, while green tea extract was found to regulate bacteria like Clostridium difficile, Escherichia coli, and Salmonella typhimurium.

Some brands are already leading with these polyphenol-rich ingredients in their nutritional marketing. Estonian health foods brand, Loov carefully details the benefits of polyphenols in their organic wild blueberry juice ‘our handpicked wild blueberries have a high anthocyanin content and are a good source of polyphenols’. Whilst US vitamin brand Codeage writes that their supplements are ‘plant-based antioxidants with 16 different polyphenols all-in-one,’ highlighting the variety and effectiveness of their polyphenol-led product, boosting health with ease and all in one single dose.