Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Wisdom Wednesday: Quercetin

Quercetin belongs to a group of plant pigments called flavonoids that give many fruits, flowers, and vegetables their color.

Flavonoids, such as quercitin, are antioxidants - they scavenge damaging particles in the body known as free radicals, which damage cell membranes, tamper with DNA, and even cause cell death. Antioxidants can neutralize free radicals and may reduce or even help prevent some the damage they cause. In test tubes, quercetin has strong antioxidant properties, but researchers aren’t sure aren’t sure whether taking quercetin (and many other antioxidants) has the same effects inside the body.

Quercetin acts like an antihistamine and an anti-inflammatory, and may help protect against heart disease and cancer. Quercetin can also help stabilize the cells that release histamine in the body and thereby have an anti-inflammatory effect.

In nature, quercetin is found as part of the vitamin C complex. Ascorbic acid encapsulates quercetin, taurine, and other flavonoids protecting them from oxidation.

In the liver, quercetin enhances aspects of phase II liver detoxification. Phase II is the route that hormones, alcohol, most drugs and artificial chemicals must follow to be removed from the body.

Clinically, I use quercetin to remove excess cortisol through the liver. Cortisol is produced in the adrenal glands. Normally small amounts are secreted at night while we sleep. This stimulates a release of glycogen (stored sugar) from the liver to maintain our glucose levels while we rest and rejuvenate to face the new day.

However, excess cortisol is a common response to stress. The cardinal sign of excess cortisol is sleep disruption. The normal sleep cycle is 90 minutes. All of us wake momentarily between each sleep cycle throughout the night. When cortisol levels are normal, we quickly return to sleep, often not even aware of our surroundings. However, if cortisol levels are high, the brain quickly becomes stimulated. We awaken fully and often have difficulty disengaging and returning to sleep. This is called maintenance insomnia. If cortisol levels remain high for long periods of time, patients typically develop onset insomnia and just can’t seem to shut down to sleep at night.

Other symptoms of high cortisol include excess histamine (allergy symptoms) and poor joint stability (recurrent low back pain or difficulty exercising without injury).

If the general health of the adrenals is good (more commonly after we have worked to rebuild the adrenals) the use of adrenal adaptogens, like ashwaganda or Korean ginseng, can aggravate high cortisol levels. This is termed a “hidden adrenal” issue. Quercetin is generally the supplement of choice. Sometimes minimal supplementation of an adrenal adaptogen is warranted. Vitamin C can also be effective as it contains quercetin and is generally supportive of adrenal function.

The Bottom Line:
If you have symptoms of high cortisol (insomnia, excess histamine, or poor joint stability) quercetin may be a valuable addition to your diet. It can also be valuable for those that react poorly to ascorbic acid or even the full vitamin C complex.

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