Phytochemicals are the non-nutritive chemicals in the plant that have the potential to protect the body’s organs and tissues and prevent several diseases. These are non-essential nutrients, which mean a human body does not require them to sustain life. However, they can definitely help to enhance the overall health of a person by their protective and preventive properties.
Phytochemicals are produced by the plants to protect themselves. Recent research has proved that they can also protect the humans against several diseases. There are hundreds of phytochemicals, which have been isolated from the plants for human use.
Some of the well-known phytochemicals include isoflavones in soy, flavonoids in fruits and lycopene in tomatoes.
How do phytochemicals work?
The action of each phytochemical is unique. The beneficial actions of phytochemicals are as follows:
- Antioxidant: The antioxidant activity of phytochemicals protects the cells against oxidative damage, which helps to prevent the development of certain types of cancer.
- Stimulation of enzymes: Some phytochemicals regulate the production and release of enzymes.
- Hormonal action: Some phytochemicals imitate the action of estrogens and help to prevent osteoporosis and menopausal symptoms.
- Anti-microbial action: The anti-microbial properties of some phytochemicals help in preventing infections.
- Physical action: Some phytochemicals have the ability to bind to the cell walls thus preventing the adhesion of harmful pathogens to the cells.
Phytochemicals are naturally present in several foods. However, latest medical technologies have made it possible to obtain a higher level of phytochemicals through the bioengineering of new plants. This is expected to allow humans to incorporate phytochemicals in their diet easily.