5 main classes of phytochemical compounds you should know

February 29, 2016

Thousands of active substances in plants have been identified, and those that remain to be discovered are certainly still very numerous. Here are five major classes of phytochemical compounds and their benefits to your health.

5 main classes of phytochemical compounds you should know

1. Glucosinolates

They are sulfur compounds, converted by the body into isothiocyanates. Glucosinolates from horseradish and nasturtium are responsible for the anti-infective properties and the ability of these plants to thin the mucus.

  • Those that contain cabbage, broccoli and Brussels sprouts can prevent cancer.

2. Essential oils

  • They are largely responsible for the scent of aromatic plants such as lavender, mint and basil, and are often found in medicinal plant-based medicines.
  • They are extracted by methods that allow concentration on their active principles, which improves their action.
  • They can be used in aromatherapy, making perfumes from them or integrating them with food.
  • They are usually equipped with antispasmodic and antimicrobial properties.

3. Mucilage

A fibre-based substance, it forms an indigestible gel when mixed with water.

  • The plants rich in mucilage, such as psyllium, have many beneficial effects on the digestive system.
  • They include improving the functioning of the intestines and facilitating the elimination of cholesterol.
  • Other plants rich in mucilage such as althaeaofficinalis (marshmallow) and ulmus rubra (slippery elm) are mainly used for their soothing properties on inflamed mucous membranes.

4. Phytoestrogens

These are compounds whose effects are similar to those of estrogen. There are two main categories of them: isoflavones, present in red clover and soy, and lignans, in flaxseed.

  • Plants containing phytoestrogens are traditionally used for treating female infertility.
  • As for phytoestrogens of foods, numerous beneficial health effects are attributed to them, including decreased risk of breast cancer.

However, according to certain sources, an unusually high consumption may have adverse effects.

5. Tannins

They interact with proteins and therefore make the tissues harder and less permeable.

  • In particular, they are used to transform hides into leather through the tanning process.
  • In herbal medicine, their astringent effects are used to strengthen the mucous and make their penetration by pathogens more difficult.
  • They also have the ability to stop diarrhea and reduce bleeding and other excessive secretions.

Among the plants containing tannins, tea is the most consumed. Its astringent benefits are fairly easy to reap: just drink a cup of overly infused tea.

Now that you know more about the active substances of plants, you can adapt your diet according to your needs. Remember there is still much to discover and that medical advice is recommended before changing your eating habits.

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