Safe to say, as a person who’s had the great good fortune to be on this earth for a few decades, with each passing year, on both a personal and professional level, I’ve grown increasingly interested in the idea of how to do aging better. While there’s no way to stop the clock altogether (though death is one ‘cure’), I love the idea of showing patients how to take steps both small and large to help make each of their days a bit healthier and happier than the one before. Achieving an excellent ‘healthspan’ (aka a long and healthy life) is the mission.
As I’ve written previously, when it comes to good medicine, particularly in the anti-aging and longevity universe, innovation in the field is fascinating, but so is safety, accessibility, do-ability and practicality – not everyone is built for cryotherapy sessions or an in-home hyperbaric oxygen chamber, but hey, if you are, have at it. Instead, in my practice, I like to focus on easily integrated lifestyle techniques that can do the most good and are well tolerated. As promising treatments are popping up just about every day, one that I’m optimistic about is ‘apigenin,’ which has the potential to push back on many of the health-eroders virtually all of us much over the age of 30 wish to tame. So, what can apigenin do for you? Here’s my primer on this fascinating flavonoid:
A look back and looking forward.
For at least the past half-century, we’ve had a pretty good idea of which foods promote health and which foods do the opposite. Yes, there are still debates within nutrition circles about how much of some foods and what kinds we should eat, but one finding rings out loud and clear in just about every nutrition study I can think of – the beneficial effect of vegetables, especially non-starchy vegetables, and fruits, especially low-sugar fruits, as well as nutrition-packed spices and herbs. It’s why the diets that fall under the broad umbrella of “Mediterranean” test out so well and, for that matter, why there are so many healthy, long-lived people in the so-called Blue Zones.
But exciting, more recent research takes things farther, identifying and analyzing which chemical compounds in healthy foods are most responsible for those good effects, how and why they work for us. One of the winners that’s emerged is called apigenin, found in a wide variety of veggies, fruits, herbs and spices, possessed of powerful anti-inflammatory, anti-bacterial and stress-taming properties. If you’re already eating a good diet, you’re enjoying some of the benefits of apigenin. Learn which foods have the highest concentrations of this micronutrient (spoiler alert: parsley and the chamomile in chamomile tea) and you’re really in the driver’s seat. You’ll also have the background to evaluate, with the guidance of a knowledgeable integrative health care provider, the pros and cons of maximizing your dose as more of the emerging research supports the use of targeted supplements.
Apigenin comes from a good family (of nutritional compounds)
By now we’re all pretty familiar with the vitamins and minerals that our diet must contain – vitamin C, the Bs, calcium, magnesium, etc., etc. – not just to keep us healthy but to keep us alive. That’s why they’re called “essential.” But there’s another category of compounds known as “micronutrients” or “phytonutrients” (literally, plant nutrients), small amounts of which play an outsized role in helping to keep us healthy. The most potent family of such compounds looks to be the polyphenols which I’ve written about in the past. Within that family, the flavonoids are heavy hitters, including apigenin.
What’s so great about the flavonoids?
In a word, evolution. Plants have been around for millions of years before us and during that time, they evolved some very effective survival skills, producing compounds protecting them from the sun’s ultraviolet rays. And because these chemicals often have a sharp taste, they discouraged animals, when they came on the scene, from eating the plants. But humans, those late-arrivals, co-evolved with the plants and we benefit from ingesting these phytonutrients. Sometimes, they serve as antioxidants, protecting us from the waste products produced when our cells generate energy; sometimes they stimulate the production of our own antioxidant enzymes.
What makes apigenin a stand-out?
An extensive track record of animal research, and early-days human clinical research, is adding up to a persuasive case that apigenin may be the most potent of the flavonoids, which is to say, it stacks up very favorably against any of the phytonutrients you may already have heard of, for instance, the lutein in peppers that helps maintain eye health or the lycopene in tomatoes that may be a cancer-fighter. What’s unique about apigenin is that it exerts a positive influence across so many of our physiological systems in so many different ways.
At the cellular level, apigenin works to neutralize free radicals or, put another way, reduce oxidative stress. At the macro level, that means it’s a potent anti-inflammatory. Inflammation drives so much of what’s bad about aging – including the common “diseases of aging” – which explains how apigenin can do so many things so well. The most obvious effects are seen on the skin which is why skin-care companies have started to add it to some of their acne-fighting and skin rejuvenation products. Another anti-inflammatory pay-off? It can slow down an overactive immune system response, reining in the release of inflammatory cytokines. In animal studies, apigenin has been shown to reduce pain from a variety of common disorders, so there’s quite a lot to like here.
Your sleep and growth hormones benefit too.
Struggling with sleep issues? Eating more apigenin-rich foods may help here too. Other research has shown that apigenin can tamp down the chief stress hormone, cortisol, producing a relaxing effect. Ever wonder why chamomile tea can be so soothing? – there’s your answer. And that’s not the whole hormonal story. Apigenin has been shown to slow the age-related decline in testosterone in males and to promote muscle growth, which is why you’ll often find the compound in body-building supplement formulations.
Heart of the matter.
In animal studies, dosing with apigenin has reduced blood pressure and in one intriguing study, it protected diabetic animals from heart attack. The theory is, protect the heart by reducing oxidative stress in the cells. Considering that heart disease is the leading human killer and that diabetes dramatically increases the risk of heart attack, the potential therapeutic pay-off for our species is obvious.
Encouraging autophagy and cancer-fighting makes the list too.
There’s evidence that apigenin may work as a cancer fighter, slowing runaway cell growth in various types of cancerous tumors. Because it doesn’t harm non-cancerous cells, some researchers are excited that it may have a future in anti-cancer therapies.
What’s more, researchers have also found that apigenin suppresses the growth of several human cancers by multiple biological effects, including the essential biological process of autophagy, your cellular salvage, cleaning and recycling system, which, in effect, strips out the still-salvageable parts on your old, worn out or dinged-up cells and recycles them to create new cells. At the moment, the hope is that relatively soon, scientists will be able to develop and provide a form of apigenin that can be applied to various chemotherapies and/or developed into supplements to help fight – and win – any number of cancer battles.
Cooling the inflamed brain.
The latest thinking is that inflammation is helping to drive some of our most feared neurological conditions, including dementia and Alzheimer’s. Here again, apigenin’s anti-inflammatory properties may be just what an ailing brain needs, at least that’s what the animal research suggests. Mice with Alzheimer’s showed improved cognitive function after being fed the compound. Accordingly, researchers are exploring apigenin (as well as curcumin, another inflammation-fighting plant compound) as a potential Alzheimer’s therapy. Here too, what a game-changer this could be.
And the list goes on…
Simply put, apigenin is a classic “good-for-what-ails-you” micronutrient. The research suggests it may be helpful in combating harmful bacteria, especially bacteria which have developed resistance against our standard (and, sadly, over-used and abused) antibiotics. Also promising is work that suggests apigenin may have a role in the fight against diabetes. It’s been shown to decrease insulin resistance in lab rats, which, as research continues, could help put the brakes on the dreaded diabetes issues in humans too.
Check out the apigenin all-star list.
Quite a few veggies, fruits and spices/herbs pack a substantial dose so consciously upping your intake with your food choices is not difficult. Here’s a handy list of favorites: chamomile, parsley, cilantro, spinach, celery, onions, oranges, kumquats, rutabagas, thyme, oregano, tarragon, passion flower, spearmint, basil, tea.
To supplement, or not to supplement?
The supplement industry has embraced apigenin, as it embraces just about anything with promising, preliminary research behind it. But when we increase the dose of the compound beyond anything we could ingest in our diet, we really don’t know how much is too much. The typical dosage is anywhere from 50-400mg a day, and I recommend taking it at night, as 100mg or more can make you feel drowsy (that’s why many folks use it a sleep supplement). If you want to experiment with supplementation, with the guidance of a knowledgeable health care provider, OK, but with so many good food sources of apigenin so readily available, it’s hardly necessary – so no need to overdo it – and no freestyling if you do choose to supplement.