Biohacking with Bioactives
Updated: Mar 26, 2021
The importance of vitamins and minerals has long been at the forefront of diet and nutrition. While these micronutrients are very important for your body, they often overshadow another type of nutrient- bioactives.
Research has demonstrated bioactives elicit physiological, behavioral, and immunological effects throughout our bodies. Bioactives work on a genetic level, altering the behavior of your genes by acting as a switch for specific genes- causing a series of biochemical steps that spur gene activation or deactivation. Adding bioactives into your diet can increase your natural antioxidants, regulate inflammation, improve detoxification, and lower cortisol levels.
What are bioactives?
Bioactives are chemicals, chemical molecules, and microbes that create a biological effect on our body. Unlike vitamins and minerals, bioactives are not essential for nutrition, so you can’t be deficient in them. But bioactives have been linked to some impactful health benefits. Experimental data has also suggested that bioactive compounds offer protection from several genetic, age, and stress-related diseases.
Bioactive compounds are naturally produced by plants as a protective measure against predators and disease. Most have a distinct bitter flavor such as the bioactives in coffee and green tea which give the drinks their sharp taste.
Some common examples of bioactives and their effects include:
Probiotics are probably the bioactive you are most familiar with. They aid digestion and have numerous positive effects on many biological systems including the immune system.
Oligosaccharides are especially beneficial to the colon and the digestion process. They are found in vegetables like onions, leeks, and chicory roots.
Glucosinolates are found in brassica vegetables like broccoli and kale. They contain sulfur, which breaks down into cancer-protecting compounds in the gut.
Carotenoids are derived from vegetables like carrots and spinach. Benefits include the synthesis of vitamin A, improved eyesight, and acting as biological antioxidants- protecting cells and tissues from free radical damage.
Polyphenols have antioxidant and cardiovascular benefits. They are most commonly found in the skin of fruits.
Quercetin has powerful antioxidant effects that support the cardiovascular system, decrease inflammation, and improves circulation. It a type of polyphenol, found in fruit skins and plant leaves.
Plant sterols have been linked to cholesterol-reducing properties and can be added to dairy and juices.
Special fatty acids derivatives of amino acids are associated with brain development in infants and cardiac health in adults. Omega-3 oils are the most common example.
Studies on the effects of bioactives have indicated that high consumption of bioactive-rich foods has a positive effect on human health and could diminish the risk of Alzheimer’s, cataracts, heart disease, stroke, cancer, diabetes, and age-related functional decadence.
Incorporating bioactives into your diet
The easiest way to add bioactives to your lifestyle is to incorporate them into your meals. Spices like turmeric, ginger, cinnamon, chili pepper, rosemary, and garlic all contain bioactives.
Turmeric has been shown to decrease glucose in serum and improve glucose levels.
Chili Peppers have been associated with a decrease in insulin levels and healthy insulin levels in human trials.
Ginger can prevent or inhibit protein glycation, a symptom of diabetes.
Rosemary helps to moderate glucose levels and reduce sugar absorption.
Garlic is especially helpful for lowering blood glucose levels while fasting.
You can also add bioactives to your diet by maximizing your fruit and vegetable intake. The skin of most fruits and leafy greens contains large amounts of various bioactives.
Unfortunately, there are not yet many bioactive supplements. Bioactives are a relatively new area of food science that is still developing. While some bioactives can simply be added to the food product during processing, others react with oxygen and lose their positive properties. Oxygen reactive bioactives must be protected until they reach the digestive step where they are most beneficial. This is a complicated process, so be wary of purchasing supplements that promise bioactive principles.