Researchers have found a correlation between flavonoids, a compound found in fruits and vegetables, and a reduction in the symptoms of endometriosis.
In a recent study issued in the journal Endocrinology, the researchers highlighted how flavonoids may help suppress the symptoms of inflammatory diseases like endometriosis. In endometriosis, cells like those in the uterus lining begin growing in other places, causing inflammation. The painful condition affects millions of women, and there is no cure.
Flavonoids have been associated with anticancer, antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and antiviral medical benefits, but the details of how they work have remained a mystery.
"Scientists have known for a while that people who eat more fruits and vegetables tend to live longer and have lower risk for many types of diseases, including Parkinson's and Alzheimer's diseases," says Stephen Safe, a professor in the veterinary physiology and pharmacology department at the School of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences at Texas A&M University.
"We were able to show a strong connection between flavonoids and endometriosis," said Safe. "By eating more foods that contain flavonoids, people are more likely to reduce their chances of endometriosis or reduce the severity of its symptoms," Safe added.
Broccoli, Berries, Onions and Wine
Safe is best known for his work in developing novel anticancer drugs that target specific receptors, which are proteins that allow cells to send and receive messages. Flavonoids act similarly to some of the drug treatments Safe's laboratory has developed for diseases like endometriosis.
"We looked at more than 20 flavonoids, and many of them showed an interaction with NR4A1 and NR4A2, two of the receptors we study," Safe said. Furthermore, he added, "Both of these receptors are involved with regulating inflammation, which is why we target them for treating endometriosis."
The two flavonoids that showed the most influence on NR4A1 and NR4A2 were quercetin and kaempferol, which are commonly found in apples, broccoli, berries, tea, onions, and red wine. "Now we know that these are the flavonoids most likely to help with treating symptoms of endometriosis," Safe continued.
Flavonoids in Food, not supplements
While this discovery encourages developing treatment options for endometriosis, Safe stated there is still more to discover about flavonoids before adding them to patient care recommendations.
"We're not yet to the point of handing out flavonoid prescriptions to treat endometriosis," said Safe. "We know right now that there's a connection between flavonoids and the cell receptors that govern inflammation."
Until scientists have more information about this connection, the best way to benefit from flavonoids is to eat more foods that contain them.
"We certainly hope that this new discovery will lead to better supplements that might work as treatments for endometriosis," Safe says. "Currently, studying flavonoids in clinical trials is difficult because the body doesn't build up a high enough concentration to monitor."
"For example, you could take lots of flavonoid supplements, but your body would only absorb a certain amount," he explained. "Improved methods for delivering the health-promoting effects of flavonoids and other food-derived antioxidants are required before they're effective," he continued.
"For now, you're better off incorporating foods with flavonoids into your regular diet as opposed to taking a supplement now and then," Safe concluded.