Human innovation is often directly inspired by nature. Take velcro, for instance. You probably haven’t thought about it since you learned how to tie your shoes, but velcro is actually a genius adhesive system that NASA uses for fastening astronaut’s suits in low-gravity orbit. Invented by a Swiss engineer after he examined those irritating burs that kept getting stuck in his dog’s hair after hiking in the alps, velcro is a perfect example of biomimetic engineering, the process of imitating (mimesis) the natural world (bio) in order to solve complex human problems. Recently, looking at the world through the lens of biomimesis is just one of the ways that scientists are putting polyphenols - which are a class of naturally occurring chemical compounds often found in colorful, edible plants - to novel use.
Taking biomimetic inspiration from the way that black tea and red wine clings to the surface of a glass, researchers began exploring the way that polyphenols found in wine and tea could be used to make better dental adhesives and engineer other dental tissues. Polyphenols are being used in dentistry not only because their unique chemical composition makes them suited for adhesives, but also because of polyphenols’ inherent antimicrobial and antioxidant properties.
The antibacterial and antioxidant properties of polyphenols are both well documented. For instance, the antioxidant effect of stilbenes - a polyphenol group abundant in blueberries, grapes, and the bark of pine trees - have been found to be so powerful that they are linked to reducing the impact of aging-related disease. In nature, plants use their stilbenes as a natural defense system against parasites and disease. When you eat fruits that contain stilbenes, your body puts them to similar use. In the human body, stilbenes react with proteins in cells which protect against oxidative stress. Oxidative stress is the result of cellular exposure to free radicals (the toxic molecules in second-hand smoke and pollution), and the underlying cause for chronic inflammation, heart problems, and neurodegenerative diseases. As such, pterostilbene is proof that what’s good for your brain is good for your heart.
We’re pretty obsessed with polyphenols. We love them so much, we made sure that each bottle of happy being® has as much of the polyphenol pterostilbene as 962 cups of blueberries. We’re fascinated by polyphenols because unlike traditional pharmaceutical drugs, which typically take a “one disease::one medicine” approach, polyphenols such as stilbenes and catechins have the potential to address multiple diseases by directly addressing cellular inflammation. As it turns out, naturally occurring compounds could have serious health applications across multiple fronts. Thanks again, nature.