Introduction To The Phyto-Chemicals

Introduction To The Phyto-Chemicals
Christine L. Foutch Naturopathic Physician Rock Island, Illinois

Christine Foutch is a practicing Holistic Physician in Rock Island, Illinois, specializing in Holistic Nutrition and Biomechanics. Holistic medicine is the art and the science of healing that addresses the whole person – body, mind, and spirit. The practice of holistic medicine integrates conventional and alternative therapies... more

Plants are composed entirely of chemicals of various kinds. The name Phyto-Chemical comes from the Greek word "Phyton" which means plant.

Phytochemicals are chemical compounds produced by the plants that help them to thrive, battle the competition, and fight off the predators and various pathogens. Some of phytochemicals have been used for poison, while others have been used for traditional medicine. As for the term "phyto-chemicals,” it is used to describe the plant compounds that are under research, having no established effects and are not defined as essential nutrients. They generally have biological activity within the host plant playing that role in growth and the defense. The complete mixture of chemicals and food provides essential nutrients, necessary calories, and other physiologically active compounds needed for life and health.

With the exception of a few nutrients, most of these dietary chemicals happen to remain uncharacterized. This includes the level and the frequency of human consumption. As noted before, some of these chemicals are toxic or carcinogenic, while others may have positive effects on physiological functions, acting as a protective agent countering the risks of acute toxicity and diminishing the onset of disease.

Epidemiologic surveys have provided the positive correlations between certain diets, as well as specific foods. It has become well known that diets that are rich with fruits and vegetables have been associated with the prevention of several chronic diseases. This proves that our plant friends, even without any evolutionary pressure exerted onto them, have developed food components that protect mankind from diseases. However, the active plant constituents were developed as a part of their own plants-defense mechanisms. Fortunately, they contribute to the health of mankind.

The promise of the functional foods emerging at the time of high consumer interests in diet and health, functional foods, food products, and supplements that deliver the possible physiological benefit in the management or prevention of disease. This has presented an opportunity for future product growth in the food and beverage industry. Researchers have begun to examine these foods, isolating and characterizing the chemical components, structures, and the physiologic functions. The number of the physiologically active food components have increased dramatically over the past decade. The possible naturally occurring protective agents include: the carotenoids, vitamins C & E, the flavonoids and other phenolic-compounds, phytoestrogens, indoles, and fiber. The epidemiologic findings, which are supported by animal studies, have led to many recommendations regarding the consumption of fruits and vegetables.

This suggests that most of us will fall out of those recommended guidelines. The relation between diet and cancer is a relatively recent phenomenon. Diet ranks second to smoking, which remains the leading contributor to cancer incidence and mortality. While the essential nutrients, particularly antioxidants, have been studied extensively, data for the many non-essential dietary plant constituents either does not exist or is sparse. The sorting of possible protective components within fruits and vegetables is very difficult. However, numerous non-essential dietary plant constituents have anti-carcinogenic potential, and so that was the clue given to you for the future of my articles.

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Resources\Contributors
Jon Hopkins Medical Institution
National Institute Of Oceanography
Department of Chemistry University Of New York, Albany
Dept. Food Sciences & Technology University California
Phytochemical Lab USDA
Biological Sciences Dept.
Nutritional Epidemiology Branch
Department of Food Science & Human Nutrition
Department of Nutrition & Environmental Sciences