Polyphenols: Exploring Their Types, Health Benefits, and More

Written by Ahmed Zayed | Last updated on August 4, 2023

These intriguing plant compounds are thought by many experts to offer a range of positive effects on our health and wellbeing.

For example — by including them regularly in our diets we may experience better digestion or enhanced brain activity.

Additionally — some studies have suggested that consuming these compounds could promote heart health while potentially lowering type 2 diabetes risk as well as susceptibility to certain types of cancer.

There are many more benefits that will definitely surprise you and this article provides you with a perfect guide and the right information for a good start!

What are Polyphenols?


Polyphenols are a group rich in organic compounds characterized by the presence of multiple phenol structures. They are widely distributed in nature, particularly in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts and beverages such as tea and coffee. 

Over 8,000 different polyphenolic compounds have been identified; each has its unique chemical structure and potential health benefits. [1]

Yes, you read it right, it's over 8000 and down below we will elaborate on everything.

Types of Polyphenols

Polyphenols can be classified into several major groups including flavonoids, phenolic acids, stilbenes, lignans and others. Down below are listed the most important groups and their benefits!

1. antioxidant

Flavonoids are the largest and most extensively studied group of polyphenols. They consist of various subcategories such as flavanols, flavones, flavonols, flavanones, and anthocyanins.

Benefits/use cases: Flavonoids have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. They have been associated with numerous health benefits, including cardiovascular health, immune system support, and cancer prevention.

Where they're found: Flavonoids are found in a wide variety of plant-based foods, such as fruits (e.g., citrus fruits, berries), vegetables (e.g., onions, broccoli), legumes, tea, cocoa, and red wine.

2. Phenolic acids

Phenolic acids are another important group of polyphenols, including compounds like caffeic acid, ferulic acid, and gallic acid.

Benefits/use cases: Phenolic acids have been studied for their antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects. They may contribute to the prevention of chronic diseases, such as cardiovascular disease and certain types of cancer.

Where they're found: Phenolic acids are found in a wide range of plant-based foods, including fruits (e.g., berries, apples), vegetables (e.g., spinach, kale), whole grains, coffee, and various herbs and spices.

3. Stilbenes

Stilbenes are a class of polyphenols that include notable compounds like resveratrol.

Benefits/use cases: Stilbenes, particularly resveratrol, have attracted significant attention for their potential health-promoting effects. Resveratrol has been associated with anti-aging, cardiovascular protection, and potential anticancer properties.

Where they're found: Stilbenes, especially resveratrol, are found in certain plant-based foods like grapes (especially red grapes) and red wine. Resveratrol can also be found in peanuts and berries.

4. Lignans and Others

Lignans and other polyphenols encompass a diverse group of compounds.

Benefits/Use cases: Lignans have been investigated for their potential hormone-balancing effects and may play a role in reducing the risk of hormone-related cancers. Other polyphenols within this group have various properties and potential health benefits.

Where they're found: Lignans can be found in foods such as flaxseeds, sesame seeds, whole grains, and certain fruits and vegetables. Other polyphenols in this category are present in a wide range of plant-based foods. [2]

Health Benefits of Polyphenols

A vast amount of research has illuminated the extensive array of health benefits that come with polyphenols. 

These special compounds contain potent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory characteristics that fortify cells against harmful oxidative stress

The impressive outcomes linked to polyphenol consumption include reduced susceptibility to particular forms of cancer, improved cognitive capability, and better management options for metabolic conditions such as diabetes or obesity.

Here are grouped certain benefits with explanations on how Polyphenols affect our organism!

1. Effect on Metabolic Diseases eg Diabetes

Polyphenols may provide potential benefits for anyone looking towards minimizing their likelihood of getting type 2 diabetes.

This is because they contribute to hindering starch breakdown helping manage blood sugar levels after consuming a meal so that unhealthy sugar spikes do not occur. [3]

So to simplify it, insulin is a hormone that enables blood sugar to enter the cell thereby high glucose levels in blood are avoided. In this particular step, insulin secretion is stimulated by polyphenols, and your blood sugar levels get more stable after meals.

Results from a study indicate that people with high levels of polyphenol-rich foods intake have up to 57 percent lower risks for developing type 2 diabetes compared to those with minimal uptake periods which can range between two and four years. [4]

Anthocyanins which are present in various red, purple or blue food substances such as grapes, currants or berries have the most potent antidiabetic effect among polyphenols. [5]

The consumption of polyphenols has been linked to a reduced risk of chronic diseases.

Their antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties play a vital role in combating oxidative stress, neutralizing harmful free radicals, and modulating inflammatory processes within the body. 

By doing so, polyphenols contribute to the prevention of diseases such as cardiovascular disease, cancer, neurodegenerative disorders, and diabetes.

2. Help prevent or slow down cancer development

Cancer is characterized by uncontrolled cellular growths. Consumption of rich fruits and vegetables diets has been correlated with the prevention and deceleration of cancer advancement. 

Polyphenols present in foodstuffs like cocoa among other sources have been shown to exhibit substantial influence on cellular activities relating to cancer formation. 

That happens via interactions with detrimental substances besides regulating gene expression while also modulating proteins central to cell growth. 

Green tea holds flavonoid compositions like epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG) reported to curtail unsupervised tumour proliferation since it also stimulates programmed cell death (apoptosis). 

Olive oil which is abundant in phenolic compounds equally exhibits anti-tumorigenesis characteristics through primary inhibition, promotion reduction, and metastasis suppression. 

They also enhance the activity of enzymes responsible for detoxifying carcinogens and affect signaling pathways involved in cancer cell proliferation. 

The MAPK pathway, for instance, plays a crucial role in regulating cell growth and survival. Certain polyphenols have shown inhibitory effects on the growth of specific cancer cells by targeting signaling pathways and proteins like COX-2. 

They can block the cell cycle progression and reduce the over-expression of COX-2, which is associated with colorectal cancer. [6]

3. Role of Polyphenols in Gut Health

Research continues to demonstrate that polyphenols are vital for maintaining a healthy balance within our gut microbiota. 

Their abilities as prebiotics ensure that good bacteria thrive while harmful ones diminish. That leads to effective digestion and increased nutrient absorption which strengths our immunity and lowers gastrointestinal issues.

For example, Green tea extracts rich with polyphenolic content appear particularly effective at suppressing bacterial pathogens including C.difficile., E. Coli and Salmonella. That will directly mitigate symptoms linked with peptic ulceration disorder or inflammatory bowel syndrome. [7]

Antibiotics are used to fight off certain bacteria but at the same time, our gut microbiome can be badly affected. 

In this case, emerging studies suggest that Polyphenols could also provide a viable solution to enhance probiotic activity needed for faster recovery from antibiotics.

However, sufficient scientific data is still required to establish this perspective. [8]

Bioavailability and Factors Affecting Absorption

The degree to which our bodies can utilize polyphenols depends on many factors.

Those factors range from the type of molecule involved to environmental influences such as interactions with other foods or differences in metabolic functioning across individuals themselves.

Regarding specific compounds like these healthy plant-based antioxidants, research has shown limits on how much some may get into our systems given certain circumstances. This highlights a need for developing better ways for increasing this ‘bioavailability’. 

An area that does not cause any concern since scientists are already working on aspects like improved formulations or modifying processes that help increase effectiveness.

4. Polyphenols and Brain Activity

Neurodegenerative disorders like Parkinson's and Alzheimer's diseases are becoming more prevalent as our population ages. 

These diseases are influenced by various factors such as inflammation, oxidative stress and depletion of antioxidants.

Studies suggest that a diet rich in flavonoid-containing foods can reduce the risk of age-related neurological disorders, dementia, cognitive decline and Parkinson's disease.

Polyphenols, including flavonoids, have been found to be bioavailable in the body and can potentially cross the blood-brain barrier to exert direct neuroprotective and neuromodulatory effects. They can protect vulnerable neurons, enhance neuronal function, and stimulate neuronal regeneration. 

Polyphenols have been shown to protect against oxidative stress, amyloid-beta-induced neuronal injury, and neurotoxicity. 

This reduces any disease linked with neurodegeneration. Some specific polyphenols like tangeretin and phenolic compounds like caffeic acid and tyrosol have demonstrated neuroprotective effects against Parkinson's disease-related pathology.

Various studies suggest that dietary intake of foods packed with polyphenol can have a beneficial effect on enhancing cognitive abilities such as focus and memory. [6]

A specific example has shown that consuming grape juice rich in natural sources of polyphenol can help boost the performance capacity amongst older adults experiencing mild cognitive impairment within only a period of 12 weeks. [9]

Another study outlines the positive impact of cocoa flavanols on brain function and highlights better blood flow and improved memory and attention abilities.

Furthermore, Ginkgo biloba extract containing high levels of polyphenol appears to be a potential candidate to improve concentration. Learning capabilities are enhanced with an additional bonus of short term memory retention.

Especially among those suffering from dementia.

5. Polyphenols and Heart Disease

Cardiovascular disease (CVD), including coronary heart disease and stroke, is a leading cause of death in developed countries. CVD is a complex, chronic disease influenced by both genetic and environmental factors. 

Factors such as smoking, high saturated fat diets, and physical inactivity are known to increase the risk of CVD. Polyphenol-rich foods, including fruits, vegetables, cocoa, tea have been suggested to have cardio-protective effects based on epidemiological and human intervention studies. 

Certain polyphenols, such as flavonols, flavones, and flavanols, have shown a correlation with reduced risk of coronary artery disease and CVD-related mortality.

Regular consumption of tea has also been associated with a reduced risk of CVD.

However, there is ongoing debate about which specific polyphenols are most effective in the context of CVD due to various factors such as differences in study methods, populations, and polyphenol levels.

Studies conducted on humans, animals, and cells have indicated that polyphenols may benefit the vascular system by inducing antioxidant defenses, lowering blood pressure, improving endothelial function, inhibiting platelet aggregation and LDL oxidation and reducing inflammation. [6]

6. Polyphenols and Aging

Aging encompasses numerous biological changes leading to progressive damage over time along with heightened vulnerability towards several illnesses linked with old age. 

Nonetheless, nature has provided us with various sources of dietary nutrients like polyphenols that can help us gracefully age.

These natural compounds are revered for their exceptional antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, which combat the deleterious effects of oxidative stress and inflammation. Factors that are significant contributors to aging. 

Furthermore, other scientific studies highlight that polyphenols affect various cellular signaling pathways granting them the ability to safeguard DNA while promoting repair and regeneration.

Role in Cellular Aging

The subject of polyphenol research has piqued many scientists' interest because it might influence cellular aging processes positively. 

Polyphenols are known for triggering certain proteins and enzymes like sirtuins and AMP-activated protein kinase (AMPK) that play essential roles in regulating energy metabolism within cells. In the meantime by also promoting an equilibrium state called homeostasis.

Activating these pathways can potentially help increase cell resilience over time while slowing down the emergence of age-associated illnesses along with possibly prolonging life spans too. 

However, more comprehensive studies are required to grasp fully how beneficial or detrimental prolonged consumption might be for us.

Potential Side Effects and Precautions

While typically safe and well tolerated, it is still important to exercise caution when consuming concentrated forms or supplements of polyphenols.

High doses can cause mild gastrointestinal issues such as bloating or diarrhea for some people.

Catechins - a type of polyphenol found in green tea - have been known to impact the absorption of certain nutrients like iron. 

Rather than relying solely on supplements alone it is best to include foods rich in polyphenols within your daily diet for optimal health benefits. Consulting with a healthcare professional is always advised! [10]

Polyphenol Supplements

It's important to note that while taking Polyphenol supplements does offer the benefit of providing a regular dose of this compound regularly; they can also have disadvantages. 

First off, dietary supplementation does not consistently account for the entire range of benefits provided by consuming foods rich in Polyphenols.

Consuming whole plant foods often gives you access to additional helpful plant compounds absent in extract form at present. [11]

Secondly, these isolated polyphenols given this way may lack significantly different synergistically interacting nutrient profiles found when ingesting traditional nutrient-dense diets. 

Lastly, safety concerns around differing supplement doses versus typically recommended food dosage levels remain unregulated with current market products available right now.

More scientific exploration is required on how much is enough or too much regarding high-dose exposure safety and long-term effectiveness across different amounts supplemented.

Food Sources of Polyphenols

Here's a list of polyphenol-rich foods: [10]




Nuts and Seeds


Herbs and Spices




Black beans




Black tea






Celery seed


Black chokeberries




Whole wheat


Cocoa powder

Black and red currants


Soybean sprouts

Flax seeds



Black elderberries


Soy meat



Dark chocolate

Black grapes


Soy milk


Curry powder



Red chicory

Soy yogurt

Dried basil

Green tea


Red lettuce

White beans

Dried marjoram

Olives and olive oil


Red and yellow onions

Dried parsley

Rapeseed oil



Dried peppermint

Red wine



Dried spearmint



Lemon verbena


Mexican oregano






Star anise






Frequently Asked Questions

What does polyphenols do to your body?

Polyphenols possess antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, protecting cells from oxidative stress, reducing inflammation and promoting overall health.

Do polyphenols reduce inflammation?

Yes, polyphenols have been shown to have anti-inflammatory effects, helping to mitigate chronic inflammation which is a common underlying factor in many diseases.

What polyphenol is in coffee?

Coffee contains various polyphenols, with one of the most well-known being chlorogenic acid. Other polyphenols in coffee include caffeic acid, quinic acid and melanoidins.

Who should avoid polyphenols?

While polyphenols are generally safe for most people, if you have a specific medical condition or are taking certain medications you should consult a healthcare professional before significantly increasing polyphenol intake.

Is coffee an anti-inflammatory or inflammatory?

While coffee contains both anti-inflammatory and potentially inflammatory compounds, the overall impact on inflammation may vary depending on individual factors and the amount and type of coffee consumed. 

Some studies suggest that moderate coffee consumption may have anti-inflammatory effects, while excessive consumption or certain coffee components may have pro-inflammatory effects.


Polyphenols exhibit rich properties in plant-based food sources that boast both antioxidant capabilities against inflammation as well as promoting sound gut, heart and brain health among others.

All of them combined ultimately leading to a healthier being for us all!

With current research efforts worldwide aiming at better understanding its mechanistic properties, scientists are also working on extending its reach. 

That is achieved through understanding more about its bioavailability and ways to modify it structurally so it touches its peak effectiveness.

Be aware that there are supplements that promise everything but give you side effects that you for sure don’t want. Get informed about food sources and how to incorporate them within your dietary plans!


1. Chemistry and Biochemistry of Dietary Polyphenols. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3257627/

2. The role of polyphenols in modern nutrition. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5601283/

3. Polyphenols and Glycemic Control. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4728631/

4. Dietary polyphenol intake and risk of type 2 diabetes in the Polish arm of the Health, Alcohol and Psychosocial factors in Eastern Europe (HAPIEE) study. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5565930/

5. Dietary polyphenols and type 2 diabetes: current insights and future perspectives. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25005188/

6. Polyphenols and Human Health: Prevention of Disease and Mechanisms of Action. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3257622/

7. Polyphenols and gastrointestinal diseases. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4216723/

8. Potential interactions among phenolic compounds and probiotics for mutual boosting of their health-promoting properties and food functionalities - A review. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29377718/

9. Concord grape juice supplementation improves memory function in older adults with mild cognitive impairment. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/20028599/

10. What Are Polyphenols? Types, Benefits, and Food Sources. Retrieved from https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/polyphenols#benefits

11. The Role of Polyphenols in Human Health and Food Systems: A Mini-Review. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6160559/


About the author 

Dr Ahmed Zayed is a medical resident specializing in plastic surgery with years of experience in the field. He is also a writer for top-rated websites including Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, ConsumerHealthDigest, and Huffington Post

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