What are iridoids?
Iridoids are a class of phytonutrients characterised by their strong, bitter taste, developed by plants as a powerful line of defence against herbivorous animals.
Many of these plants have some common properties:
- they are well-known by the local inhabitants
- they have been used since many hundred / thousand years in traditional/folk medicine
- they usually they can tolerate harsh conditions (mechanical impacts, droughts etc.)
- they have few side effects (if any) when ingested
- they are widespread (many grow as weeds).
Medicinal plants are those that have been used traditionally to treat specific conditions and ailments, or to simply maintain or optimise health. Many of today’s pharmaceutical drugs have been inspired by the properties of medicinal plants. Iridoids are produced by medicinal plants as a defense mechanism against animals or against infection by microorganisms that threaten their livelihood.
Just like a human being has thousands of different cellular and hormonal activities occurring at any given time to attempt to adapt to our foods, drinks, air, stress, etc., medicinal plants have the same innate intelligence. They create these iridoids to fight off anything attempting to damage the plant. Imagine you were a fruit growing from a tree. If you had to endure bugs, weather, etc. you would learn to adapt and create defense mechanisms to survive those conditions. Iridoids are the plant’s response to the “stressful environment” that surounds them. From an evolutionary medicine point of view, this ability to adapt to their environment is the source of the adaptogenic properties by iridoids, i.e. when humans or animals consume iridoids they “feel better”. This “feel good” factor is based upon a number of healthful properties possessed by iridoids and iridoid-containing plants.
Although iridoids are relatively new to science, it is already known that they share some characteristics with other plant-sourced compounds like flavonoids or polyphenols, e.g. they all have strong antioxidant properties. Perhaps one of the most interesting facts that is being explored in laboratories worldwide, is the fact that one single plant can contain more than one iridoid, and that combinations of iridoids, as well as combinations of iridoids and other phytonutrients, such as antioxidant flavonoids and polyphenols , tend to work in synergy, i.e. they “combine forces”, i.e. each of the contributing synergistically towards improving your health and wellbeing.