Flavonoids: Hemp’s Plant Power Secret
If your parents raised you to always eat your fruits and vegetables, you should probably take a second to thank them.
The benefits of a plant-heavy diet are covered pretty regularly by every health site on the internet. Fruits and veggies are an essential part of any diet because of their anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, anti-cancer, and disease-preventing properties. What isn’t mentioned as often is the chemical reasoning behind these benefits. Many scientists think the reason for these great benefits is a class of phytonutrients called flavonoids.
Hemp, like all other plants, has flavonoids too. Which means some of those compounds health researchers are so interested in probably make their way into your favorite full-spectrum, whole-plant CBD products.
What are Flavonoids?
Flavonoids are the largest group of phytonutrients, with over 6,000 types. They’re responsible for the vivid colors in fruits and vegetables, along with other tasks that help plants survive like filtering ultraviolet rays, attracting pollinators, and preventing plant disease.
Flavonoids are part of the polyphenol class of phytonutrients. This means they’re made up of multiple phenol structural units, which are phenyl units bonded with a hydroxy unit: C6H5OH. While we’re focused on flavonoids, studies suggest that all plant-based polyphenols can be powerful antioxidants when you make them a regular part of your long-term diet.
The Potential Health Benefits of Flavonoids
The majority of research on the subject suggests flavonoids are good for us. Many flavonoids have shown signs of being the driving force behind those anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, disease-fighting properties. Certain flavonoids are also associated with longevity, weight management, and neurodegenerative disease prevention.
One of the most massive and intriguing studies on flavonoid effects was published in August 2019. The study tracked 56,048 participants in the Danish Diet, Cancer, and Health cohort over 23 years. The study found an inverse relationship between regular intake of moderate doses of flavonoids and all-cause, cardiovascular- and cancer-related deaths. In other words, there’s a potential to reduce mortality through increasing flavonoid-rich food intake, especially among smokers and heavy alcohol drinkers.
Participants with higher flavonoid intake in the study also tended to have lower prevalence of heart failure, ischemic heart disease, stroke, and COPD. However, those participants also had a much lower Body Mass Index (BMI), were more physically active, and were more often female than those with the lowest total flavonoid intake. Those with higher flavonoid intake also consumed more dietary fiber and less red meat and processed meat.
Researchers concluded that a better diet has great potential to improve general public health. While there are a number of contributing factors to a good diet and good health—including reducing BMI and exercising regularly—flavonoids are one of the dietary components that can be pretty safely recommended. Researchers did notice that non-smokers and low alcohol consumers hit a threshold, with no added benefit after 500mg/day of flavonoids in reducing risk of cardiovascular disease, and 1000mg/day in reducing cancer-related mortality risks.
Researchers in this study have some good news: that level of flavonoid intake is pretty easy to achieve for most people. They say “one cup of tea, one apple, one orange, 100 g of blueberries, and 100 g of broccoli would provide most of the flavonoid subclasses and over 500 mg of total flavonoids.” Of course, those aren’t the only sources of flavonoids: they can also be found in chocolate, red wine, pears, and hemp.
The Types of Flavonoids
You’ll notice that researchers cited “subclasses” of flavonoids. Flavonoids are divided into groups based on their chemical properties. These differences in structure have an impact on how these compounds are metabolized, and therefore dictate the effect they have on the human body. Each type is associated with a different set of potential health benefits. Here are some of the most commonly talked about flavonoid groups:
- Flavones: Found in celery, parsley, hot peppers and some herbs. Associated with antioxidant benefit and delaying the metabolizing of drugs.
- Anthocyanidins:Common in red and blue berries, red wine, and red/purple grapes. Linked with heart health, antioxidant effects, diabetes and obesity prevention.
- Flavonones:Found in citrus. Research associates them with cardiovascular health, relaxation, and antioxidant and anti-inflammatory activity.
- Isoflavones:Common in soybeans and soy products. These are phytoestrogens, which means they act like the hormone estrogen. Research suggests they can lower the risk for certain hormonal cancers, though study results are mixed. Certain isoflavones are antioxidants while others have oxidant effects.
- Flavonols:Found in onions, leeks, Brussels sprouts, kale, broccoli, tea, berries, beans, and apples. They’re known for anti-inflammatory benefits.
- Flavanols:Commonly seen in teas, cocoa, grapes, apples, berries, fava beans, and red wines. Certain flavanols are associated with cardiovascular and neurological health.
About 20 different flavonoids have been found in cannabis plants*. The distinct smell, color, and taste of certain hemp strains? That’s the flavonoids working. The exact makeup of flavonoids is different from strain to strain, so all 20 flavonoids may or may not be present in every hemp product. The three most common are quercetin, apigenin, and cannflavin.
- Quercetin: Part of the flavonol class, quercetin is associated with antioxidant, anti-viral, and anti-cancer effects.
- Apigenin: A member of the flavone class with potential anti-anxiety and anti-inflammatory effects.
- Cannflavin: Flavones, classified as cannflavins A, B, and C. Cannflavin A and cannflavin B are potential anti-inflammatories.
Hemp and Cannflavin
The cannflavins are worth a bit of special attention, given that they are only found in cannabis plants. They are prenylflavonoids, belonging to yet another sub-class of flavonoids.Cannflavins A and B were isolated in Cannabis sativaL. plants in the 1980s. Cannflavin C was isolated in 2008, so it hasn’t been researched as extensively yet.
One study found that cannflavins are potent anti-inflammatories, with activity thirty times greater than asprin. The study says “cannflavins A and B act to inhibit the in vivo production of two pro-inflammatory mediators, prostaglandin E2 and the leukotrienes.”
For those of us who aren’t up on our medical sciences, in vivo refers to effects that take place in a living organism. Leukotrienes are involved in the development of inflammatory diseases like asthma and rheumatoid arthritis, and prostaglandin E2contributes to inflammatory pain. Cannflavins A and B are shown to help stop the production of these two compounds in the body.
While we often focus on studies related to CBD and other cannabinoids, cannflavin shows promise on its own, and provides more insight into why so many advocates recommend whole-plant, full-spectrum products. The potential anti-inflammatory effects of cannflavin is certainly not something you’d want to leave on the table.
Flavonoids and the Entourage Effect
Regular readers will be familiar with the entourage effect. This is the common name given to the unique synergy between cannabinoids, terpenes, flavonoids, and other phytonutrients in hemp products. As a quick refresher, all phytonutrients—even in trace amounts—contribute to the effectiveness of others.
As an example, CBD on its own has a relatively low effective dosage threshold. When administered in a full-spectrum format with the full range of cannabinoids, flavonoids, and terpenes, there was seemingly no dose level at which CBD’s effects plateaued.
Researchers suggest the differences in the presence of all phytonutrients—and not just cannabinoids— across hemp strains contribute to the reported varying effects of different products. Therefore, future research into the medicinal value of C. sativa plants can’t just focus on CBD to THC ratios. The entire picture must be considered, including terpenes and flavonoids.
Testing for Flavonoids in Hemp
Unfortunately, flavonoid testing is one area in which the hemp industry still needs to grow. Most commercial labs do not test for flavonoid content, only cannabinoids and sometimes terpenes. Public attention isn’t as focused on flavonoids, either. Terpene content is becoming the trendy thing to discuss, while another potentially beneficial compound class is forgotten. Focusing more on flavonoids will open up another avenue to understanding the hemp plant and to creating more effective products.
For instance, some flavonoids are understood to degrade or break down entirely under certain circumstances. Fruit and vegetable flavonoids are often found on the skin and outer layers. These flavonoids can be affected by storage conditions and preparation methods: onions stored at room temperature lose a third of their flavonoids in two weeks, and 80% of all flavonoids can be lost during the cooking process. As a rule of thumb, if the color fades during the cooking process, phytonutrients are being lost.
Which brings up a number of questions for hemp products. Will certain extraction methods degrade phytonutrients at a greater rate? Is there a way to preserve flavonoids in consumer products for a long period of time? Can farmers naturally create hemp strains that are more resilient to flavonoid loss?
We don’t have answers to these and many more questions, which is why it is so encouraging that more and more academic labs are focusing on researching the entire plant, and not just cannabinoids.
Where to Go Next
Hemp is a plant with a rich history and a fascinating future. At Apotheca, we’re dedicated to aiding you in the process of discovery with this wonderful plant. If you’re looking for a wide variety of high-quality hemp products selected by our team of CBD experts, visit our store. We have hemp flowers, full-spectrum CBD tinctures, and much more available for purchase.
If some of the topics in this post went over your head, don’t worry. You can get up to speed with our introductions to CBD and hemp, explanations of phytocannabinoids and endocannabinoids, terpenes, CBD extraction methods, different strains, and the social history of hemp farming. Be sure to check our blog every other Monday for the latest news and educational posts on hemp, CBD, and kratom.
*This post references Cannabis Revealed, by Bonni Goldstein, M.D., available for purchase here.