Phytochemicals - chemicals found in plant foods -- might have health benefits that explain why fruits and vegetables are good for you, just like your mom said. Potential benefits of one phytochemical, ellagic acid, include decreasing cancer risk and lowering cholesterol. Ellagitannins, which break down into ellagic acid when you consume them, are one of the compounds found in some berries and other fruits as well as some nuts.
Foods High in Ellagitannins
Raspberries lead the pack when it comes to raising ellagic acid levels. Pomegranates also appear to contain large amounts of ellagitannins, although raspberries have undergone more clinical studies. Strawberries, blackberries, cranberries, walnuts and grapes also contain ellagitannins. The ellagitannins in these foods break down into ellagic acid in the intestines. More of the ellagitannins are found in the seeds and leaves than in the pulp of fruits such as raspberries and strawberries; according to the United States Department of Agriculture, the pulp of green strawberries contains more than ripe strawberries.
Ellagic acid breaks down rapidly and isn't well absorbed. Because of these two limitations, taking pure ellagic acid supplements is not an effective way to get your dose of the compound, according to alternative medicine guru Jon Barron. Pure ellagic acid is both insoluble, meaning it won't dissolve in water, and biologically unavailable. USDA plant pathologist John Maas states that small amounts of dietary ellagitannins may be more beneficial than large doses of pure ellagic acid.
Since the seeds and leaves contain most of the ellagitannins, taking raspberry seed powder is one way to get more of the compounds that will break down into ellagic acid after consumption, Barron suggests. The highest levels of ellagic acid are found in the fruits that are freeze-dried, according to the American Cancer Society. There is no single accepted dose of foods containing this compound; in an Okl
Pomegranate, walnuts and red raspberries are examples of rich dietary sources of ellagic acid and the precursors to ellagic acid called ellagitannins. Some dietary ellagic acid is converted in your intestines into compounds called urolithins, which are also absorbed and may be responsible for some of the health benefits of ellagic acid. Ellagic acid and its metabolic products appear to have anti-cancer properties, especially against prostate cancer.
Sources and Metabolism
Ellagic acid is a small phytochemical that can occur naturally in foods, and it also can be produced as a breakdown product of larger phytochemicals called ellagitannins in your intestines. Many plant foods contain some ellagic acid. In addition to pomegranate, foods with relatively high levels include strawberries, blackberries, raspberries, cranberries, walnuts and pecans. Absorption of ellagic acid from food occurs quite rapidly, with maximum levels in your blood after about one hour, after which blood levels decline as ellagic acid is metabolized to other compounds.
Ellagic acid metabolic products are found concentrated in prostate tissues of male mice fed pomegranate ellagitannins. In human subjects with prostate cancer or enlargement who were provided walnuts or pomegranate juice for the three days just prior to surgery, metabolic products of ellagic acid were found to be concentrated in prostate tissue, according to a study published in the March 2010 issue of “Molecular Nutrition and Food Research.” A study presented in the July 1, 2006, issue of “Clinical Cancer Research” reported a reduction in prostate cancer disease progression following surgery in patients given 8 ounces of pomegranate juice per day.
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