The word phyto in Greek means plant. Phytochemicals are natural chemicals which are found in plants and which help prevent and treat diseases including heart disease, diabetes and cancer. They do not, on their own, improve a person's health in the same way as do the vitamins and minerals provided by plant-based foods, but as a component of plants, phytochemicals do contribute to improved health. Research has shown that societies that emphasize a diet containing plant-based foods high in phytochemicals have fewer incidences of cancer, heart disease and arthritis.
Here are some actions associated with the many different types of phytochemicals:
- Phytochemicals with antioxidants help protect us from oxidative cell damage and reduce the risk of some cancers. Phytochemicals in red grapefruits, broccoli, mangos and carrots are high in antioxidants.
- Phytochemicals found in orange foods such as carrots, yams, cantaloupes and apricots are promoted as anti-cancer agents.
- Phytochemicals found in kale, spinach and turnip greens may reduce the risk of some cancers
- Phytochemicals found in garlic and onions help the body get rid of harmful chemicals and may strengthen the immune system
- Phytochemicals found in licorice and soybeans might simulate an estrogen-like substance. They may play a role in protecting us from such cancers as prostate and breast cancer.
References from the SIRC Collection:
1. Collins A, Azqueta A, Langie S. Effects of micronutrients on DNA repair. European Journal Of Nutrition [serial online]. April 2012;51(3):261-279.
2. Feeney M. FRUITS AND THE PREVENTION OF LIFESTYLE-RELATED DISEASES. Clinical & Experimental Pharmacology & Physiology. December 2, 2004;31:S11-S13.
3. Hayes J, Kelleher M, Eggleston I. The cancer chemopreventive actions of phytochemicals derived from glucosinolates. European Journal Of Nutrition [serial online]. May 2, 2008;47:73-88.
4. Minich D, Bland J. A Review of the Clinical Efficacy and Safety of Cruciferous Vegetable Phytochemicals. Nutrition Reviews [serial online]. June 2007;65(6):259-267.
5. Nessel E. Phytochemicals: Taking a Closer Look. American Swimming. September 2010;2010(5):22-25.
6. Prakash D, Gupta C. Glucosinolates: The Phytochemicals of Nutraceutical Importance. Journal Of Complementary & Integrative Medicine. January 2012;9(1):-1.
7. Sasser H. Lycopene and Prostate Cancer: No Magic Bullet. Integrative Medicine Alert [serial online]. September 2012;15(9):100-104.
8. Schreiner M. Vegetable crop management strategies to increase the quantity of phytochemicals. European Journal Of Nutrition [serial online]. March 2005;44(2):85-94.
9. Vincent H, Bourguignon C, Taylor A. Relationship of the dietary phytochemical index to weight gain, oxidative stress and inflammation in overweight young adults. Journal Of Human Nutrition & Dietetics. February 2010;23(1):20-29.