The term “phyto” originated from a Greek word meaning plant. Phytonutrients are the biologically active substances in plants that are responsible for giving them color, flavor, and natural disease resistance. In the last couple of decades scientists have begun to identify that they provide a vital biological function in our bodies as well. Fruits, vegetables, grains, legumes, nuts and teas are the richest sources of phytonutrients.
Unlike the traditional nutrients, like proteins, fats, and carbohydrates, and vitamins and minerals, phytonutrients are not “essential” for life, but they help your body work optimally. Some people prefer the term “phytochemicals”.
Several studies examining the role of vegetarian or vegan diets (loaded with phytonutrients) in the treatment of fibromyalgia have reported positive results. The first study (Hanninen et al., 2000) addressed the potential role of antioxidants from a vegan diet in FM sufferers and found significant increases in general health and reduced pain and stiffness. Another study, carried out in FM patients by the University of Finland, involved researchers examining a raw foods/living foods vegan diet consisting of fruits, vegetables, seeds, sprouts, and nuts which are all foods containing high levels of phytonutrients. The results of this study showed that the FM patients whose diets had the highest levels of serum carotenoids (lutein, lycopene, alpha carotene, and beta carotene) and flavonoids (quercetin, hesperidin), reported significant improvements in joint stiffness, pain, and general health. Food sources of carotenoids include sweet potatoes, carrots, kale, spinach, turnip greens, winter squash, collard greens, cilantro and fresh thyme. To maximize the availability of the carotenoids in the foods listed above, the foods should be eaten raw or steamed lightly. Sources of flavonoids include: apples, apricots, blueberries, pears, raspberries, strawberries, black beans, cabbage, onions, parsley, pinto beans, and tomatoes.
An earlier study by a University in Oslo, Norway in 1993 placed a group of fibromyalgia patients on a 3-week vegetarian diet and 7 of 10 FM patients reported an increase in overall health status in the form of improved well-being and reduced pain. A more recent study (Edwards, Blackburn, Christie, Townsend, et al. 2000), which was a double-blind, placebo-controlled trial, suggests that the administration of pure Anthocyanidins (80 mg daily) may be beneficial in FM patients. Anthocyanidins are phytonutrients found in berries. Berries are the highest in Anthocyanidins, powerful purple pigment compounds that act as potent antioxidants, and include vitamin C. The berries Anthocyanidins help ease the joints by its antioxidant activity. It also detoxifies tissues and promotes better digestion. The FM patients in the active treatment group received an Anthocyanidins formula derived from cranberry, bilberry, and grape seed. The improvements in the group receiving the Anthocyanidins reported specifically a reduction of fatigue and improved sleep.
People whose diets are rich in fruits and vegetables live healthier lives because these foods contain thousands of phytonutrients that interact in ways to prevent certain diseases and boost overall health. Over a hundred phytochemicals have been identified, many having a regulating effect on the immune and endocrine system.
How do phytonutrients protect against disease?
Phytonutrients are being studied intensely as they have so many beneficial affects on the human body including:
- serving as antioxidants
- enhancing immune response
- enhancing cell-to-cell communication
- altering estrogen metabolism
- converting to vitamin A (beta-carotene is metabolized to vitamin A)
- causing cancer cells to die (apoptosis)
- repairing DNA damage caused by smoking and other toxic exposure
- detoxifying carcinogens through the activation of the cytochrome P450 and Phase II enzyme systems—which are a function of the liver
It is clear that they play a vital part in the human body’s tissue growth and repair processes and potentially support many more beneficial functions.
Phytonutrients can be utilized in our diets and play an important and necessary role in helping you to win the battle against fibromyalgia.