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Polyphenols

Derived from phenolic acid and also called phenolic compounds, their amounts vary with the levels in their floral sources. Many are antioxidants, and some are phytoestrogens. The main honey polyphenols are flavonoids (see below); others include caffeic, protochatechuic, vanillic and gallic acids.

Health benefits

Honey's polyphenols are antioxidants (see 'Antioxidants', pages 24–5), some being more effective than vitamin C.

Early evidence suggests certain non-flavonoid polyphenols are phytoestrogens (plant oestrogens) that can have oestrogenic effects in the human body by attaching to and activating oestrogen receptors on cells.

Studies of phytoestrogens in other foods show they affect people differently:

• In a woman with high levels of her own oestrogens, phytoestrogens attaching and activating her cells' oestrogen receptors prevent her oestrogens attaching. Because activation by her oestrogens would have had stronger effects, the attachment of phytoestrogens decreases her body's oestrogenic activity. This could be useful if she has an oestrogen-dominant hormone imbalance causing, for example, bloating, cyclical weight gain, endometriosis, fibroids, heavy or irregular periods, infertility, irritability, lumpy tender breasts, miscarriage, nausea, polycystic ovary syndrome, post-menopausal bleeding, thickened womb lining, vaginal discharge or womb, ovary or breast cancer.

• In a woman with low levels of her own oestrogens (for example, after the menopause), phytoestrogens attaching and activating her cells' oestrogen receptors increase her body's oestrogenic activity. This could be useful if she has an oestrogen deficiency causing, for example, acne, depression, dry vagina, fatigue, greasy hair and skin, infertility, irregular periods, low sex drive, non-cyclical weight gain or abnormal hairiness.

Very little research has examined the effects of phytoestrogens in men.

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