Japanese Plant Proves to be Flavonoid Superpower

One of the ways in which the body protects itself at the cellular level is by disposing of broken, unhealthy, and unused cells. This prevents these cells from building up and causing damage to healthy tissue. The process that the body uses to prevent this buildup of debris is known as autophagy.

When autophagy becomes inefficient, the cellular debris that accumulates exposes healthy cells to stress. This is often the first step in the development of a wide range of diseases, including cancer.

Researchers have been investigated a number of compounds that show promise in improving the process of autophagy. Among the compounds being intensely investigated at present are flavonoids. These are compounds found in a variety of plants with known antioxidant qualities. Researchers believe that flavonoids shield the body at the cellular level and help to protect it from disease.

Recently, researchers from the University of Graz in Austria analyzed 180 different flavonoids in order to distinguish which one was the best at counteracting the effects of age-related cell destruction. The results were published in the journal Nature Communications.

The team of researchers eventually concluded that the compound 4,4′-dimethoxychalcone (DMC), a flavonoid found in high proportion in the native Japanese plant ashitaba, was the clear winner of the competition. It is interesting that Japanese tradition has long held the ashitaba plant in high regard for its medicinal value. Even today, it is one of the main ingredients in Japanese botanical medicine.

The researchers ran a series of experiments that demonstrated that DMC protected cells from age-related damage, and did so more efficiently than many better-known flavonoids, such as resveratrol.

The team’s study consisted of a series of experiments that began with yeast cells and fruit flies, and continued with worms, mice, and finally, human cells. Each experiment yielded similar results: DMC effectively protected a wide variety of cells from age-related damage, thereby increasing the lifespan of the cells.

For example, when DMC was tested on the heart cells of mice, it not only boosted autophagy, protecting the heart cells from damage, but it also protected liver cells from alcohol-induced damage. The same results remained true when the researchers tested DMC on different types of human cells, including heart and liver cells.

This promising new research is still at an early stage. And as the researchers themselves point out, conclusive results will not be available until the completion of human clinical trials.

In the meantime, it has become increasingly clear that flavonoids are one of the main ingredients for protecting our health. And whether or not scientists eventually develop medications from ashitaba or resveratrol (which is derived from grapes), it seems clear that eating a variety of vegetables and fruits will benefit our health.

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