Vitamin P: How Flavonoids Benefit Your Health

Pink pills forming shape to P alphabet on wood background
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If vitamin P doesn't sound familiar, that's because it's an outdated term—and not actually a vitamin, or an individual substance, at all. "Vitamin P" is the name once used to describe a group of plant-based substances we now know as flavonoids or bioflavonoids. When you’re eating a salad with colorful plant foods, you’re getting a dose of vitamin P.

Scientists have identified over 5000 different kinds of flavonoids, says Sonya Angelone, MS, RDN, CLT, of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. These flavonoids contain powerful phytonutrients (plant nutrients) and antioxidants. They provide color to attract pollinating insects and protect the plant against natural predators like bacteria, fungi, and pests. Phytonutrients give robust flavors to the plant foods you consume and offer you some of the same protections that they provide for the plants.

While flavonoids aren’t vitamins, they offer many health benefits for the human body, says Angelone. Ongoing research continues to reveal new flavonoids beneficial to health improvement and disease prevention.

Health Benefits of Flavonoids

Flavonoids don’t prevent disease like vitamin C prevents rickets, according to Angelone. Rather, they contribute to optimal health and chronic disease prevention.

Antioxidant Properties

Everyday living can have a negative impact on your health. Free radicals are produced when your body uses oxygen to convert food to energy. More free radicals enter your system from smoking, water pollution, and illness. Free radicals are basically unstable atoms in your body experiencing oxidative stress. Oxidative stress can damage the cells in your body, cause inflammation, and increase your risk of disease and aging.

Flavonoids are powerful antioxidants. They help your body deal with oxidative stress by detoxifying tissue-damaging chemicals. Flavonoids are associated with preventing chronic diseases like cardiovascular disease, cancer, and diabetes, says Angelone.

Anti-Inflammatory Properties

A study published in the journal Food and Function examined the anti-inflammatory activity of natural dietary flavonoids. It showed that chronic inflammation was linked to an increased risk of cancer, neurological disease, metabolic disorder, and cardiovascular disease. Results demonstrated that controlling inflammation by consuming phytochemicals can be an important part of disease prevention.

The research found that flavonoids reduce inflammatory molecule production and diminished the recruitment and activation of inflammatory cells. They also help regulate cellular function and promote antioxidant activity in the body. Flavonoids can also support the immune and circulatory systems.

Sources of Bioflavonoids

Eating plenty of vegetables, fruits, and edible plants rich in flavonoids can help lower the risk of chronic diseases. By consuming a wide variety of plant foods, you can introduce many kinds of bioflavonoids into your body. They are found in foods and beverages like broccoli and other cruciferous vegetables, nuts, seeds, cacao, and green tea, according to Angelone. In particular:

  • Quercetin: You'll find quercetin in apples, citrus fruits, onions, berries, and other brightly colored fruits and vegetables. Quercetin, combined with green tea, may have powerful anti-cancer benefits. It’s considered the most abundant and active flavonoid, with strong antioxidant properties.
  • Catechins: These substances help create the color and flavor of plant foods. They are a potent antioxidant found most abundantly in green tea. Other rich sources of catechins include raspberries, dark chocolate, acai berries, and wine.
  • Anthocyanins: These bioflavonoids provide the rich color found in red, blue and purple berries, red cabbage, red and purple grapes, and red wine. Anthocyanins play a role in scavenging for free radicals and antioxidant protection.
  • Isoflavones (also known as soy isoflavones): This class of phytochemicals is also phytoestrogens (plant hormones). They provide antioxidant properties shown to reduce the risk of disease and cancer. Foods rich in isoflavones include soybeans, chickpeas, and other legumes.
  • Pycnogenols (also called proanthocyanidins): They contain very powerful antioxidant properties shown to offer significant cardiovascular protection and other health benefits. Plant food sources include grape seed, grape skin, cranberry, barley, rhubarb, cinnamon, and pine bark.
  • Green tea polyphenols: These compound make up approximately 30% of green tea by weight. The Camellia sinensis leaves are shown to have the highest concentration of antioxidant polyphenols. Among the three varieties (black, green, and oolong), green tea is shown to provide the most health benefits. Green tea polyphenols are associated with reduced risk of numerous types of cancers and decreased risk factors related to heart disease.

A Word From Verywell

Most fruits, vegetables, and herbs contain health-promoting vitamin P or flavonoids. Typically, the more colorful the food, the richer it is in various flavonoids. People who eat the typical American diet usually don’t eat enough flavonoids.

Most Americans get between 250 and 400 milligrams of flavonoids per day, and the greatest source is tea. But people who eat the recommended daily amount of fruits and vegetables (roughly, one and a half to two cups of fruit and two to three cups of veggies per day) are much more likely to consume more flavonoids and phytonutrients. While there is no specific recommendation for daily intake of flavonoids, it is always a good idea to include plenty of fruits and vegetables in your diet.

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