What are Phytochemicals, Antioxidants and Polysaccharides

Last edited, 13 April 2020.

Phytochemicals

Phytochemicals are nutrients found only in plants. They aid the plant’s resistance against sunlight and aid its survival – and Scientists have also discovered that they help the survival of humans.

Phytochemicals can be used to help fight against cancer. At almost every step along the pathway to cancer, there are one or more phytochemicals that can slow or reverse the process. Research has shown that phytochemicals can help enhance the immune system, reduce inflammation, prevent processes that lead to cancer, prevent DNA damage, and reduce oxidative damage to cells, as well as many other benefits. These are merely the effects that research has identified; there are more benefits yet to be discovered.  

So, consuming a wide variety of phytochemicals is better for the immune system.

There is a wide variety of phytochemicals, and every plant has a unique set of them.  Different phytochemicals can prevent different stages of cancer formation.
Some common classes of phytochemicals include

  • indoles
  • isothiocyanates
  • flavonoids
  • isoflavones
  • carotenoids

Indoles

Indoles exist in many different plant foods, example cauliflower, broccoli, cabbage, mustard greens, kale and turnips.  Indole-3-carbinol aids in breaking down a cancer-causing estrogen precursor and this breakdown results in a harmless form of estrogen, preventing cancer.

Isothiocyanates

Isothiocyanates can be divided into PEITC and Sulforaphane.
PEITC can be found in cabbages and turnips.  It helps to suppress the generation of cancerous cells in the lungs and prevent the binding of carcinogens to DNA.
Sulforaphane can be found in broccoli, cauliflower and cabbage.  It helps to remove carcinogens from cells before they can inflict any damage.

Flavonoids

Flavonoids can be found in onions, sweet potatoes, citrus fruits and berries.  They protect against free radicals, inhibit carcinogenic hormones from attaching to normal cells, and inhibit enzymes responsible for cancer cell metastasis.

Isoflavones

Isoflavones include genistein, daidzein and glycitein that can be found in soybeans.  These provide great resistance to diseases and they help reduce serum, cholesterol, minimize incidence of coronary heart disease, and lower the risk of osteoporosis in females.

Carotenoids

Phytochemicals in fruits and vegetables that give them red, orange and yellow colors.  Good sources of carotenoids include green leafy vegetables and carrots.  Six most common carotenoids are:  beta-carotene, alpha-carotene, lycopene, beta-cryptyzanthin, lutein and zeaxanthin

Antioxidants

Antioxidants are substances that inhibit the activity of free radicals.
Free radicals are highly reactive molecules produced by cigarette, smoke, exposure to toxic chemicals and excessive sun exposure, as well as body’s own metabolism.  They are highly unstable and contribute to mutations of membranes, proteins and DNA, causing cancer and other chronic diseases such as cataracts, heart diseases and aging.  Antioxidants are the body’s vacuum cleaners, clearing the body of harmful free radicals.  While free radicals hasten the rate of skin aging, antioxidants delay the aging process.

Antioxidants from plants have been shown to destroy free radicals, helping to protect against oxidative damage caused by these dangerous molecules.  

Grape seed, cactus fruit, ginseng fruit, rose, ashitabakumazasa, acerola cherry and many other plants are rich in antioxidants.  

Antioxidant Supplements

Rather than taking antioxidants in the form of supplements, experts recommend the consumption of whole plant foods as a more effective way of acquiring antioxidants as to date, there is no direct evidence linking the consumption of antioxidant supplements to reduced cancer risk.

Polysaccharides

Polysaccharides are long chain of molecules found frequently in certain mushroom species.

Research has shown that polysaccharides found within these mushrooms can activate immune cells and inhibit tumor growth.  Polysaccharides also help balance the immune system, enabling the immune system to destroy existing cancer cells and viruses.  Mushrooms rich in polysaccharides are also used as antiviral drugs.

Different polysaccharides have different functions, each has unique effects and benefits for different types of cancers.
The amount of polysaccharides used is important as only an appropriate dose elicits the best response from the body.

Shiitake, reishi, maitake, yun zhi and ABM mushrooms are rich in polysaccharides.
Polysaccharides  also aid in increasing the production of interleukin and interferon, preventing the body from entering different phases of cancer formation.  Polysaccharides also enhance cell-mediated immunity to destroy existing cancer cells and viruses.

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