Vitamin P: a bioflavanoid bonanza for athletes

‘Vitamin P’, which you probably know as ‘bioflavonoids’, is one of the more unfamiliar vitamins. But as Andrew Hamilton expains, research suggests that it can play an key role in helping athletes stay healthy, both in the short and the longer term

Vitamin P is actually a collective term for a number of different, but chemically related naturally occurring aromatic organic compounds (more commonly referred to as bioflavonoids) – the term aromatic derived from the fact that these compounds are built from aromatic ‘benzene-like’ ring structures. In Nature, plants synthesise bioflavonoids for a number of reasons – for example to keep away disease or to protect leaves by filtering out harmful high-energy ultra-violet rays from the sun. Examples of bioflavonoids include quercitin, rutin, hesperidin and myrecetin. Bioflavonoids are an example of the many ‘phytochemicals’ found in plants; compounds that contribute to the flavour, colour or disease resistance of the plant.

WHY DO I NEED VITAMIN P?

In the very strictest sense of the word, you don’t, because although referred to as a ‘vitamin’, vitamin P is not absolutely essential; consuming a diet completely devoid of bioflavonoids would not lead to classic and recognisable deficiency symptoms. However, that doesn’t mean you don’t need vitamin P because much research indicates that bioflavonoids can play a very important role in enhancing health and keeping disease at bay. In particular, bioflavonoids have antioxidant properties and can neutralise harmful free radicals, which are potentially damaging to our cells and thought to be at the root of ageing and degenerative disease. Bioflavonoids enhance vitamin C metabolism in the body and also act in conjunction with vitamin C to protect and preserve the structure of blood vessels, keeping the circulation system healthy. They also work as anti-inflammatory agents by helping to deactivating the enzymes that are responsible for inflammation. There is also a growing body of evidence that bioflavonoids may help to reduce cholesterol levels and the risk of degenerative diseases such as cancer [ 2018 Dec 28;11(1). pii: E28].

HOW MUCH VITAMIN P DO I NEED?

Since vitamin P doesn’t have true vitamin status, there’s no recommended daily allowance as such. However, because of the importance of bioflavonoids to our health, nutritionists now believe that an optimum intake of vitamin P for health would be that obtained by consuming at least 5 servings of brightly coloured fresh fruits and vegetables per day.

WHERE CAN I FIND VITAMIN P?

The best sources of bioflavonoids are brightly coloured fresh fruits and vegetables, although most unprocessed plant foods contain some bioflavonoid content. There are six main types of bioflavonoids: anthocyanins, flavanols, proanthocyanidins, flavones, flavonols and flavanones. Different fruits and vegetables tend to be rich in certain types: anthocyanins – berries and currants such as raspberries, blackcurrants etc; flavonols – tea, apples, apricots, cocoa; flavones – chillies, parsley, celery, flavanone – citrus fruits and juices such as orange, grapefruit, lemon and lime; flavonols – onion, leek broccoli, kale; proanthocyanidins – dark coloured fruits such as plums, strawberries, blackberries, blueberries and red wine; anthocyanidins – berries, grapes and red wine.

WHAT HAPPENS IF I DON’T GET ENOUGH VITAMIN P?

Because bioflavonoids are so intimately linked with vitamin C metabolism, a sub-optimal intake produces similar symptoms including easy bruising, tender or bleeding gums and lowered immunity. As hinted at earlier, nutritionists now believe that long-term sub-optimum bioflavonoids intakes may increase the risk of degenerative diseases such as cancer and coronary heart disease.

WHO SHOULD TAKE MOST CARE TO REGULATE VITAMIN P INTAKE?

Anyone who fails to meet the ‘five portions a day’ guidelines for fresh fruits and vegetables is at risk of a sub-optimum bioflavonoid intake.

CAN I GET TOO MUCH DIETARY VITAMIN P?

To date, no adverse effects have been associated with high dietary intakes of bioflavonoids from plant-based foods. Likewise, normal strength bioflavonoid supplements appear to be safe. However, some side effects have been observed with prolonged high-strength bioflavonoid supplements, and these are probably best avoided, especially by pregnant women.

WHAT ARE THE MOST RELIABLE FOOD SOURCES OF VITAMIN P?

Foods rich in flavanols

Tea
Chocolate (dark, high cocoa content)
Apple, red delicious with peel
Apricots

Foods rich in flavones

Parsley, fresh
Celery
Chili peppers, green
Foods rich in flavanones
Orange juice, fresh
Grapefruit, fresh
Orange, fresh

Foods rich in flavonols

Onion, yellow
Leek
Broccoli

Foods rich in anthocyanins

Blackberry
Blueberry
Grapes, red
Raspberries
Strawberries
Red wine
Plums

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