There is a universe of compounds in plants. I refer to the complete inventory of compounds as a library.
The compounds themselves are found in volumes, that is multiple variations of the same core compound.
A great example are the ginsenosides of ginseng. Many variants with minimal alterations in structure but a world apart in effects they produce. Depending on the variant, a specific ginsenoside can cause excitement while an other produces relaxation.
It is this kind of variation in plants that make botanical foods the tools we need to extend human life.
Some of the compounds are fuel and are needed to supply energy while others improve function and help the body ward off disease.
Unlocking the secrets of plants dates back to the Ancient healers. They grouped them according to practice and custom. Above all, they did no harm.
In addition to antioxidants, plants contain other phytonutrients that provide benefits far beyond the macro nutrients they supply.
Phytosterols are one. These are substances that structurally resemble human steroids.
Phytoestrogens for example, denotes compounds that mimic the activity of human estrogen. This biological activity is based on their stuctural resemeblance to a steroid and their ability to pass through membranes and access the nucleus of cells. They also have an ability to bind to membrane receptors and either mimic or block the activity of the natural steroid.
The olive is anothe example. It is the fruit of the olive tree and contains a treasure trove of health enhancing compounds. In fact, the oil from the olive is probably responsible for the low incidence of coronary heart disease experienced by Mediterranean peoples. This is due to the olive’s high mono-unsaturated fatty acid content.
It is also theorized that the oleic acid-rich low-density lipoproteins (LDL) are more resistant to oxidative forces than other LDL species. It is further theorized that antioxidant vitamins present in olive oil prevent LDL oxidation from occurring.
The antioxidant potential, previously considered as the “non-essential components of olives”, may in fact contribute to the protective and health promoting action of olive oil. Olive polyphenols (3, -dihydroxy phenyl ethanol, hydroxytyrosol and tyrosol) may also play a crucial role in health. Olives also contain compounds that are part of nature’s arsenal of antioxidants.