WHAT ARE THE PHENOLIC ACIDS?
The phenolic acids are a group of phytonutrients (plant based chemical compounds that have numerous health benefits but are not classed as essential nutrients). They can be found in a wide range of plant based foods including berries, chilli peppers, nuts and spices.
Although the phenolic acids are not believed to be essential in humans, they do have numerous health benefits. With the exception of capsaicin they are all powerful antioxidants that can protect your body’s cells from dangerous free radicals (harmful by-products of oxygen related reactions). They also offer protection from nasty diseases (such as cancer and diabetes), reduce allergic reactions, keep your heart healthy and much more.
In this article I will be looking at 7 of the main phenolic acids in greater detail:
History:- In 1816 Christian Friederich Bucholz became the first person to extract capsaicin from chilli peppers in an impure form. In 1898 Karl Micko extracted a pure form of capsaicin from chilli peppers. In 1919 E.K.Nelson determined the chemical structure of capsaicin and in 1930 Ernst Späth and Stephen Darling managed to synthesise it.
Health Benefits:- Capsaicin has a wide range of health benefits in the human body. It is a powerful antibacterial (a substance that kills or slows down the growth of bacteria) and anti-inflammatory (a substance that reduces unnecessary inflammation in the body). It can also increase your metabolism, prevent headaches and migraines, prevent indigestion, prevent sinus infections, prevent stomach ulcers and prevent various types of cancer (particularly prostate cancer). In addition to this, it can keep your heart healthy, reduce blood levels of low density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol (a type of cholesterol that blocks the arteries and increases your heart disease risk). Finally, this phenolic acid can relieve joint and muscle pain, relieve nasal congestion, relieve the painful symptoms of arthritis (inflammation of the joints), relieve the painful symptoms of shingles (a type of skin rash), treat inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) and treat psoriasis (an inflammatory skin condition that is characterised by red, itchy, scaly patches).
Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA):- Children aged 2 years or less are advised to stay away from capsaicin. Children who are over 2 can use small amounts of capsaicin but should minimise their consumption. Adults are safe to use creams containing up to 0.075% capsaicin a maximum of 4 times per day and ingest a maximum of 120 milligrams (mg) of capsaicin 3 times per daily.
Food Sources:- Chilli peppers are the only food source of capsaicin. Unlike most nutrients (which are measured in mg), the amount of capsaicin in peppers is measured using Scoville Heat Units (SHU) with the hottest peppers containing the most capsaicin and having the highest SHU. The bhut jolokia chilli (1,001,304 SHU), infinity chilli pepper (1,067,286 SHU), naga viper pepper (1,382,118 SHU), red savina habanero pepper (577,000 SHU) and the Trinidad scorpion butch T pepper (1,463,700 SHU) are 5 of the world’s hottest peppers and 5 of the best capsaicin food sources.
Overdose Symptoms:- Capsaicin is an irritant and can have a number of nasty side effects if the consumption recommendations are not followed which include breathing difficulties, burning sensations in the mouth, convulsions, heartburn, nausea, kidney damage, liver damage, stomach pain, skin irritation and stomach ulcers.
Deficiency Symptoms:- Capsaicin is not classed as an essential nutrient so there are no reported deficiency symptoms associated with its consumption.
History:- Awareness of curcumin dates back to 1900 B.C. but it was not isolated until the 1800s. In 1910 its chemical structure was determined and in the latter half of the 20th century it was identified as the active component in the cooking spice turmeric.
Health Benefits:- Curcumin is a powerful antioxidant. Preliminary evidence suggests that it may also have many other health benefits but more research on humans is required before these health benefits can be validated. According to this preliminary evidence, curcumin may act as an antibacterial (a substance that kills or slows down the growth of bacteria), antidepressant, anti-inflammatory and antiviral (a substance that inhibits the growth of viral infections). It may also keep the liver healthy, prevent Alzheimer’s disease (a mental disorder which leads to the loss of memory, thought and speech), prevent atherosclerosis (a condition where hard plaques form in the artery walls and restrict the flow of blood), prevent replication of the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) and prevent various types of cancer (including breast cancer, colon cancer, lung cancer and prostate cancer). In addition to this, it may strengthen the immune system, reduce blood levels of LDL cholesterol, treat arthritis (inflammation of the joints), treat cataracts (clouding on the lenses of the eyes), treat diabetes, treat indigestion, treat psoriasis, treat kidney disease and treat multiple sclerosis (a nerve disorder which leads to depression, impaired mobility, muscular weakness and vision problems).
RDA:- There is currently no RDA for curcumin but the doses used in studies range from 100mg to 8,000mg per day. Doses of up to 12,000mg per day are believed to be safe.
Food Sources:- Turmeric is the only food source of curcmin and contains around 5g per 100g.
Overdose Symptoms:- Ingesting more than 12,000mg of curcumin each day can have a number of unpleasant side effects which include diarrhea, gallstones (small, hard stones in the gall bladder), indigestion, liver damage, nausea, stomach irritation and stomach ulcers. Provisional studies suggest that overdosing on curcumin may also cause cancer, interfere with certain medications (such as blood thinning medications and chemotherapy drugs) and stimulate uterine contractions in pregnant women (which can lead to miscarriage or premature birth). However, more research is required before these overdose symptoms can be definitively associated with curcumin.
Deficiency Symptoms:- Curcumin is not classed as an essential nutrient so there are no reported deficiency symptoms associated with its consumption.
3) ELLAGIC ACID
History:- Ellagic acid was discovered in 1818 by the French chemist and pharmacist Henri Braconnot. In the 1960s scientists started to look at the effect ellagic acid had on blood clotting. By the 1970s and 1980s the scientific testing on this nutrient had moved on to look at its potential cancer fighting properties and in the 1990s a number of small laboratory studies looked at the effectiveness of ellagic acid as a treatment for cancer.
Health Benefits:- Ellagic acid is a potent antioxidant. Provisional research suggests that it may also have cancer fighting properties (particularly when it comes to breast cancer, colon cancer, oesophageal cancer, pancreatic cancer, prostate cancer and skin cancer), prevent heart disease, prevent liver problems, reduce high blood pressure and boost the immune system. However, further evidence is required before these benefits can be confirmed in humans.
RDA:- There is currently no RDA for ellagic acid.
Food Sources:- Red raspberries are by far the richest source of ellagic acid and contain an impressive 1.5mg per 100 grams (g). Cranberries (0.12mg per 100g), pecans (0.33mg per 100g), strawberries (0.63mg per 100g) and walnuts (0.59mg per 100g) also contain good levels.
Overdose Symptoms:- Ellagic acid sourced from food has no reported overdose symptoms. However, consuming high levels of ellagic acid supplements can interfere with the absorption of other medications and may also induce labour in pregnant women.
Deficiency Symptoms:- Ellagic acid is not classed as an essential nutrient so there are no reported deficiency symptoms associated with its consumption.
4) GALLIC ACID
Health Benefits:- Gallic acid is a potent antihistamine (a substance that acts against histamine and minimises allergic reactions), anti-inflammatory and antioxidant. It can also prevent various types of cancer, prevent diabetes, prevent internal bleeding, prevent albuminuria (a health condition where excess albumin protein is found in the urine) and treat menorrhagia (a regular, prolonged and unusually heavy menstrual period).
RDA:- There is currently no RDA for gallic acid.
Food Sources:- Small amounts of gallic acid can be found in most plant based food. Walnuts are the best food source of this phenolic acid and contain a significant 1,625mg per 100g. Oranges are another great source of this nutrient and contain 84 mg per 100g. Gallnuts, grapes and tea are also good sources of gallic acid but the exact amounts they contain are not known.
Overdose Symptoms:- Natural gallic acid is believed to be safe and has no adverse effects when high levels are consumed. However, ingesting large amounts of gallic acid supplements can interfere with high blood pressure medications.
Deficiency Symptoms:- Gallic acid is not classed as an essential nutrient so there are no reported deficiency symptoms associated with its consumption.
History:- Awareness of salicylic acid dates back to around 500 B.C. However, it was not isolated until much later in 1838 by the Italian chemist Raffaele Piria. This early form of salicylic acid was effective at reducing pain and inflammation but it also caused various stomach problems. In 1953 the French chemist Charles Frederic Gerhardt managed to solve this problem by neutralising salicylic acid and created acetylsalicylic acid. However, he had no desire to market this discovery so it was later picked up by the German company Bayer in 1899 who ultimately sold it as the pain reliever aspirin.
Health Benefits:- Salicylic has a number of health benefits when applied topically to the skin and also when ingested. It is a powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory which can protect your skin cells from visible signs of ageing and inflammatory skin conditions such as acne and psoriasis. It can also prevent heart disease, relieve the pain associated with unnecessary inflammation and treat fevers. In addition to this, it can treat a number of skin problems including calluses (thickened, hard areas of skin), corns (small, thick areas of skin on the foot), dandruff (the shedding of dead skin cells from the scalp) and warts (small, hard growths on the skin).
RDA:- There is currently no RDA for salicylic acid.
Food Sources:- Salicylic acid can be found in a wide range of fruits, herbs, nuts, vegetables and spices. Some of the top food sources include almonds, apricots, blueberries, cumin, green peppers, olives and turmeric.
Overdose Symptoms:- Salicylic acid sourced from food is believed to be safe. However, consuming high levels of aspirin can cause stomach problems. Applying large amounts of acne treatments containing salicylic acid topically can also lead to blisters and skin irritation. Additionally, people who are allergic to salicylic acid may experience breathing difficulties, swollen lips and a swollen throat when they come into contact with this nutrient.
Deficiency Symptoms:- Salicylic acid is not classed as an essential nutrient so there are no reported deficiency symptoms associated with its consumption.
6) TANNIC ACID
Health Benefits:- Tannic acid is an antibacterial, antimutagenic (a substance that prevents genetic mutations), antioxidant, antitoxic (a substance that fights harmful toxins within the body) and astringent (a substance that causes tissues in the body to contract). It can also prevent diarrhea. Provisional research suggests that this phenolic acid may also prevent Alzheimer’s disease, prevent cancer, prevent diabetes and treat skin conditions (such as blisters and skin rashes).
RDA:- There is currently no RDA for tannic acid.
Food Sources:- Tannic acid can be sourced from a wide range of plant based foods although the exact amounts these foods contain is not known. Some of the best tannic acid foods include apricots, blackberries, grapes, green tea, melons, oranges, peas, spinach and wine.
Overdose Symptoms:- Natural tannic acid that is found in food has no reported overdose symptoms. However, consuming high levels of tannic acid supplements can cause cancer, damage the kidneys, damage the liver, damage the protective lining of the stomach, interfere with digestion and interfere with the absorption of various nutrients (particularly iron).
Deficiency Symptoms:- Tannic acid is not classed as an essential nutrient so there are no reported deficiency symptoms associated with its consumption.
History:- Awareness of vanillin dates back to the Aztec times but it was not successfully isolated until 1858 by Nicholas-Theodore Gobley. It was later synthesised in 1874 by the German scientists Ferdinand Tiemann and Wilhelm Haarmann.
Health Benefits:- Vanillin is a powerful antioxidant. Initial evidence suggests that it may also prevent Alzheimer’s disease, prevent cancer, prevent Parkinson’s disease (a degenerative brain disorder which leads to the loss of mobility and speech) and prevent sickle cell disease (a disease that causes your body to produce sickle shaped blood cells which restrict blood flow). However, more studies are required before these health benefits can be confirmed.
RDA:- There is currently no RDA for vanillin.
Food Sources:- Natural vanillin is found in vanilla beans with an average dry cured vanilla bean pod supplying you with 2g of vanillin per 100g. It can also be sourced from vanilla extract and vanillin supplements but the exact amounts these sources contain varies between products.
Overdose Symptoms:- Consuming high levels of vanillin can cause migraines in certain people but no other overdose symptoms have been reported.
Deficiency Symptoms:- Vanillin is not classed as an essential nutrient so there are no reported deficiency symptoms associated with its consumption.
PHENOLIC ACIDS SUMMARY
The phenolic acids are a highly protective group of nutrients that can keep you safe from various diseases and harmful substances. Provisional evidence suggests that they may also have a lot more to offer in terms of health. So make sure you are adding spices to your cooking and eating a wide range of fruits, nuts and vegetables. Taking these steps will supply your body with a wide range of health boosting vitamins, minerals and phenolic acids.