What Are Flavonoids, How Do They Work, and Are They Therapeutic?

March 22, 2022 08:00 am ET
What Are Flavonoids, How Do They Work, and Are They Therapeutic?

There are many beneficial compounds in the Cannabis sativa plant other than terpenes and cannabinoids. The lesser-known compounds of the cannabis plant are flavonoids. Thus far, more than 20 flavonoids have been identified in the Cannabis sativa plant itself, but there are many more which can be found throughout nature. In order to get a better understanding of flavonoids, let’s discuss what they are, how they work and whether or not they are therapeutic. 

What Are Flavonoids?

Flavonoids are defined as “various compounds found naturally in many fruits and vegetables” as well as cannabis, tea and chocolate. Healthline explains that there are six different types of flavonoids, each of which are broken down differently within the body. The different types include flavanols, flavan-3-ols, flavones, flavanones, isoflavones and anthocyanins. Flavonoids are each found in different types of foods and plants, and are estimated to make up around 10% of the compounds in cannabis. Let’s dive into some of the specifics of different types of flavonoids.

The Six Flavonoid Categories

  1.  Flavonals are well-known for their antioxidant properties and are found in foods like kale, berries, tea, grapes, tomatoes, broccoli and others.
  2.  Flavan-3-ols are types of flavonoids that are rich in nutrients and are found in foods like apples, strawberries, blueberries, red and purple grapes, cocoa, oolong tea, black tea, green tea and others.
  3.  Flavones act as a natural pesticide to protect the plants from harmful infects. It also has anti-inflammatory properties and can be found in foods like parsley, chamomile, peppermint and more.
  4.  Flavanones—similar to flavones—are good for fighting inflammation as well as assisting with weight and cholesterol control. This type of flavonoid can be found in fruits such as lemons, limes, grapefruits and oranges.
  5.  Isoflavones can help balance hormones in the body and is mainly found in soy and other legumes.
  6.  Anthocyanins is a type of flavonoid that gives the red or purple pigment to foods such as cranberries, blueberries, strawberries, red wine, and red and purple grapes.

Flavonoids in the Cannabis Plant

A study by Johanna L. Bautista et al found that the most common flavonoids out of the 20 identified in the Cannabis sativa plant include flavone (apigenin and luteolin) and flavonol (kaempferol and quercetin). However, they did explain that flavones known as cannflavins A, B and C were isolated in the plant. Cannflavins are flavonoids unique to the cannabis plants. Cannflavins A and B were discovered back in 1986 by Marilyn Barrett.

While apigenin, luteolin, kaempferol and quercetin may be the most common according to this study, other flavonoids found in cannabis include vitexin, isovitexin, orientin and catechins. These latter flavonoids are all either a flavone or flavonol, and are responsible for yellowish hues in plants.

Anthocyanins can also be found in cannabis. Anthocyanins are responsible for the blue or purple pigment in certain cannabis strains. You can learn more about the benefits of this type of flavonoid in this article

How Do Flavonoids Work in the Body?

Flavonoids can help to reduce cellular activity and fight off free radicals in the body. The body faces many toxins and stressors everyday, and by consuming flavonoids—whether through a specific food or cannabis—your body then becomes more adept at fighting against these toxins and stressors. 

A study published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition assessed the probable mechanisms of action and potential application of flavonoids. Researchers found that flavonoids can increase the function of endogenous antioxidants, as well as assist the body in restoring levels of endogenous scavenging compounds when the body becomes depleted and deprived of them as a result of reacting to toxins and stressors. 

The study also found that “Flavonoids can prevent injury caused by free radicals in various ways. One way is the direct scavenging of free radicals. Flavonoids are oxidized by radicals, resulting in a more stable, less-reactive radicals. In other words, flavonoids stabilize the reactive oxygen species by reacting with the reactive compound of the radical.”However, it should be noted that this is just the ‘tip-of-the-iceberg’ in terms of understanding how flavonoids work within the body. 

Are Flavonoids Therapeutic?

Let’s consider the two most common flavonoids found in the Cannabis sativa plant—excluding cannflavins— flavone and flavonol. Is there evidence that these flavonoids are therapeutic, and if so what benefits could an individual expect when consuming them?

Therapeutic Benefits of Common Flavonoids Found in Cannabis

  1. Apigenin belongs to the flavone-type of flavonoid. Evidence suggests that it can help induce muscle relaxation and sedation, and possesses antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, antiviral and anti-mutagenic properties.
  2. Luteolin belongs to the same type of flavonoid as apigenin and shares many similar benefits. One can expect to benefit from its anti-cancer, antioxidant, anti-apoptotic and anti-inflammatory properties. 
  3. Kaempferol is an excellent defense against free radicals. One can also expect to benefit from its ability to reduce the risks of chronic diseases (including cancer), antioxidant properties, as well as its ability to modulate apoptosis, angiogenesis, inflammation and metastasis. 
  4. Quercetin belongs to the same flavonoid type as kaempferol. Its benefits include fighting free radicals due to its antioxidant properties, reducing inflammation, reducing the risk of cancer, preventing neurological diseases, preventing infections, relieving allergy symptoms, and reducing risk of heart disease as it can lower high blood pressure.

The significance of these benefits can not be overstated. The fact that these compounds contribute to the 10% of flavonoids available in the cannabis plant just makes marijuana more appealing as an alternative form of treatment for various conditions. Now that we have a better understanding of the benefits of 4 of the flavonoids which can be found in cannabis, let’s have a look at the benefits of cannflavins. 

Therapeutic Benefits of Cannflavins

Cannflavins are said to share similar therapeutic properties to the flavonoids found throughout nature such as having antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, anti-carcinogenic properties as well as—though not as effectively—acting as a neuroprotective agent and an anti-parasitic agent. Researchers from a study published in 2020 explain that the current most significant therapeutic benefit of cannflavins is their powerful anti-inflammatory properties. 

The Chicago Tribune and Science Alert even reported on cannflavin A and B because research uncovered that they have anti-inflammatory benefits which are “30 times more effective than Aspirin.” However, as with most other aspects of cannabis, more research is needed to be certain of the benefits of cannflavins. 

The more we discover about the cannabis plant, the more complex it appears to become. From the benefits of the cannabinoids (THC, CBD, THCV, CBDA, etc.), to the benefits of terpenes (Linalool, Myrcene, etc.), and now the benefits of flavonoids—it feels as though the Cannabis sativa plant never ceases to amaze. 

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