Flavonoids are a large family of compounds synthesized by plants that have a common chemical structure (1). The basic structure of a flavonoid is shown in figure 1. Flavonoids may be further divided into subclasses (see table 1). Over the past decade, scientists have become increasingly interested in the potential for various dietary flavonoids to explain some of the health benefits associated with fruit and vegetable-rich diets. These potential health benefits are being used to promote the consumption of flavonoid-rich foods, beverages and dietary supplements. This article reviews the scientific evidence for the hypothesis that dietary flavonoids promote health and prevent disease in humans. For more detailed information on the health effects of isoflavones, a subclass of flavonoids with estrogenic activity, see the separate article on Soy Isoflavones. For more information on the health benefits of foods that are rich in flavonoids, see separate articles on Fruits and Vegetables, Legumes and Tea.
* Flavonoids are a large family of polyphenolic compounds synthesized by plants.
* Scientists are interested in the potential health benefits of flavonoids associated with fruit and vegetable-rich diets.
* Many of the biological effects of flavonoids appear to be related to their ability to modulate cell signaling pathways, rather than their antioxidant activity.
* Although higher intakes of flavonoid-rich foods are associated with reductions in cardiovascular disease risk, it is not yet known whether flavonoids themselves are cardioprotective.
* Despite promising results in animal studies, it is not clear whether high flavonoid intakes can help prevent cancer in humans.
* Although scientists are interested in the potential of flavonoids to protect the aging brain, it is not yet clear how flavonoid consumption affects neurodegenerative disease risk in humans.
* Higher intakes of flavonoid-rich foods have been associated with reduced risk of chronic disease in some studies, but it is not known whether isolated flavonoid supplements or extracts will confer the same benefits as flavonoid-rich foods.
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