What are Salvestrols?
Salvestrols are plant derived compounds (phytonutrients) essential for wellbeing that cannot be made in the body and must therefore be supplied through our diet. As a group, they are chemically unrelated substances except for the similar manner in which they confer their benefits, that is, as a result of their action with a particular enzyme. This enzyme is present only in malfunctioning cells and when it encounters a salvestrol it converts it into a form which is toxic to the sick cell. Because the enzyme is not present in healthy cells the Salvestrols exert no ill effects on them.
The Discovery of Salvestrols
The scientists in the UK who discovered Salvestrols — led by Gerry Potter (Professor of Medicinal Chemistry) and Dan Burke (Emeritus Professor of Pharmaceutical Metabolism and former head of the School of Pharmacy) — were developing synthetic pharmaceutical products that use this method to combat disease when they realised that similarly structured compounds were naturally present at low concentrations in many foods. But on further investigation they were surprised to learn that foods which should have been rich in these essential compounds actually showed low concentrations or were in fact devoid of them. The researchers soon realised that this wasn’t because the plants couldn’t produce these compounds but that modern food selection and production methods were removing them from the diet.
How Salvestrols Work?
Salvestrols Target Diseased Cells
The main feature of Salvestols is that they target a specific enzyme called CYP1B1(pronounced “sip one, bee one”) found only in diseased cells of the human body. When the Salvestrols are metabolized by CYP1B1 it starts a series of processes that result in the death of the diseased cell (known as ‘apoptosis’ or programmed cell death). Healthy cells, containing no CYP1B1, remain and the diseased cells die.
Beyond Antioxidant Protection
Salvestrols act as a natural rescue mechanism, ensuring our cells function correctly. Antioxidants strive to protect our cells from DNA damage but are ineffective once the damage is done. Salvestrols actively eliminate damaged cells, helping us heal before sufficient accumulation can make us sick. In fact the body finds Salvestrols so important they escape what’s called ‘first pass metabolism’, or the first attempts of the liver to remove them from the body. Observing how the body sought to retain these compounds, the scientists who discovered them named them Salvestrols, from the Latin word “salve”, to save.
Salvestrols and Diet
Research suggests that Salvestrols are produced by plants in response to fungal infection, and are therefore most present at the sites where fungi are likely to attack. In fruits, this means on the skin, as the fruit is ripening. Salvestrol compounds are also present on the surfaces of the roots of many plants, as the roots are continually under threat from fungi in the soil.
It is estimated that we consume today about 10-20% of the Salvestrols which would have occurred in the diet 100 years ago. So, even though we are being urged to eat more fresh fruit and vegetables, unless you eat organic you are unlikely to get sufficient Salvestrols from your diet.
The levels of Salvestrols in a typical “5 portion a day” basket of non-organic fruit and vegetables from a supermarket have been measured and found to contain only 10% of the estimated daily dietary requirement. So eating adequate amounts of commercially available fruit and vegetables will not provide the essential nutrients the body needs. Even an organic diet may be inadequate since the varieties of fruit and vegetable commercially available may be types that are low in Salvestrols.
It can be difficult to find food that is high in salvestrols. Different salvestrols are found in varying concentrations and levels of biological activity in fruits like strawberries, oranges, grapes and even cocoa. There are over 550 varieties of oranges, over 200 varieties of strawberries and grapes, and 450 varieties of cocoa bean! All with different levels of Salvestrols, and each with different levels of biological activity.
Examining other likely sources of Salvestrols, such as fruit juices, other beverages and processed foods, Salvestrols were again found to be largely absent. In the case of some fruit juices where they should have been present, for example in cranberry juice, it was discovered that the Salvestrols were removed during processing in order to make the product taste sweeter, as most Salvestrols have a sharp or bitter taste.
So, it is currently very difficult to get an adequate intake of Salvestrols without taking a supplement but researchers are working with farmers and agronomists to establish growing conditions that can ensure high levels of Salvestrols in crops. They are also producing a directory of organic foods rich in salvestrols so that people can balance their intake of Salvestrols through a combination of diet and supplementation.
The Effect of Food Processing.
One reason for the disappearance of salvestrols in the diet is that that they all have a bitter taste. As a result of the modern trend toward sweet flavours, plant sources that would normally be rich in salvestrols are shunned as sweeter tasting varieties are bred or selected to suit modern tastes. Furthermore, the trend towards producing foods without adding sugars or sweeteners is also causing salvestrols to be removed by manufacturing processes that filter out bitter substances so that the finished product will taste sweeter.
The Effect of Food Production.
But the most exciting discovery was the fact which led the scientists to unravel the true mysteries of salvestrols. The team has now shown that these important substances are produced by plants to protect themselves from pests and disease, in a similar way that mammals have evolved to use them. However, the use of many modern fungicides and crop protection chemicals means that plants which are not organically grown will not express high concentrations of salvestrols because they are never exposed to the attacks which cause the plant to produce them at such levels! About 100 years ago it is estimated that we would have consumed about 10 times the amount of salvestrols in our diet as we do now.