A few weeks ago, in my blog post Lean Mean Lyme Fighting Machine, I discussed the importance of eating whole, fresh, healthy, anti-inflammatory foods. This week, I interivew Kelly Heim, PhD, or pharmacologist extraordinaire. Better yet, Professor Polyphenol, as I like to call him. Professor Polyphenol will help elucidate exactly how those compounds, specifically polyphenols,  found in anti-inflammatory foods such as  fruits and vegetables can strengthen our bodies against lyme or other chronic diseases.

First, an intro to this curious character, Professor Polyphenol. Dr. Heim is a pharmacologist who has just authored a chapter in a new book called “Antioxidant Polymers: Synthesis, Properties, and Applications” (Wiley and Scrivener).  The chapter, entitled “Natural Polyphenol and Flavonoid Polymers”  describes the pharmacology of polyphenols, compounds found in red wine, grape seed, cocoa, berries, pomegranate and pine bark. I asked Dr. Heim for an interview to shed some light on the power of polyphenols….and how we can make Borrelia suffer as a result. He was more than happy to oblige.

English: Chemical structure of raspberry ellag...

English: Chemical structure of raspberry ellagitannin (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

LW: Professor Polyphenol, tell everyone who you are, besides polyphenol savant. Your education, profession, hobbies, favorite color, pet peeves or pets in general.

PP:   I received my baccalaureate degree in  nutritional biochemistry at UNH, the University of New Hampshire.  By the time I graduated, I was entering the polyphenol world with tremendous enthusiasm, with highly acclaimed review soon to be published in the Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry.  I went on to receive my Ph.D. in pharmacology from Dartmouth Medical School in 2009. My favorite color is blue because it makes me envision anthocyanins, which are beautiful blue polyphenol pigments in berries and flowers.   Please do not confuse this with the blue ink in pens.  I have an aversion to blue pens, so I look around my office and kitchen junk drawer regularly to ensure my world is free of them.  Blue ink aside, pet peeves include misplaced apostrophes and unapologetic distribution and sale of weak coffee.   So far, over 30 cats, 40 sheep, 3 parakeets, 3 dogs and 1 lizard have been a part of my life.  My hobbies include sports, art, writing, composing music and hand-crafting fishing lures.  Places where you may run into me include university libraries, karate dojos, Banana Republic, batting cages, trout streams, and the seat of my 2006 Honda 225 cc 4-stroke dirt bike.

LW: Okay then! You’ve recently authored a chapter on polyphenols. Describe to the readers what polyphenols are, so as to avoid any confusion with Polly-O string cheese, which are great for kids lunch boxes by the way.

PP:  A reasonable request. First, let’s take the word apart. Poly  means “more than one.”  So polyphenol means more than one phenol structure. The example of a compound in nature with multiple phenol rings is ellagitannin, a polyphenol from raspberries. So polyphenols have more than one of these phenol structures hooked together.  They can become quite large, with many rings and –OH groups.  This gives them antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial activity.

Polyphenols are found in most fruits and vegetables, but Polly-O string cheese actually contains no polyphenols.  But if you buy 10 sticks of it, you can arrange them on a table to render the structure of the phenol structure shown above.   If you eat all 10 sticks afterwards, and continue to do this several times each day, you will require more polyphenols in your diet to help offset metabolic syndrome from the accumulating paunch around your midline.

LW: Unbelievable. You are brilliant and sarcastic. No wonder I like you so much. Realistically, not many of us will be picking up a copy of this new textbook…unless we go back to grad school for biochemistry or pharmacology (not gonna happen). Simplify for us.   Pretend you are writing a children’s book on polyphenols–a book we might be more likely to buy. What would the title be?

PP:  Let’s Hold Hands.   A key point in the text book chapter is that the types of polyphenols that are linked together in long, happy chains are the hardest to measure and study, but we know they are extremely relevant to our health.  Ultimately, I would like to see polyphenol intake incoprporated as part of dietary assessment software platforms used in dietetics. As high intake is relevant to longterm wellness.  I would also like to support learning and visibility of polyphenols by mass-producing christmas tree decorations to replace strands of tinsel and lights.  Kids can string together chains of little plastic polyphenols and help put them around the tree.

LW: Polyphenol Christmas tree decorations. I don’t even think oprah would have  expected the interview to take this direction. I like it. Now, why is it important that lymies know about polyphenols and how to have a polyphenol rich diet? I presume the antioxidant and anti-inflammatory activities of polyphenols is key. Or should I say kiwi? Are there even any polyphenols in kiwi?  Do you get the sense that you and I are easily distracted??

PP:  Polyphenols have antimicrobial, antiinflammatory, neuroprotective and prebiotic properties that can benefit Lyme patients.  There are over 8,000 different polyphenols known in the plant kingdom.  They all have different properties and pharmacokinetics.  Some are more effective than others for attenuating inflammation, quenching free radicals, enhancing immune function, killing bad microbes and nurturing good microflora.  Until all of those relationships are defined, it is best to diversify your polyphenol intake.  The critical polyphenols are functionally versatile, and they are found in fruits and berries, certain nuts, the bran of grains, tree barks, certain kinds of beer, and red wine.  Pomegranate contains a very different class known as ellagitannins, which are metabolized by gut bacteria to antiinflammatory compounds called urolithins.  Fruits, green tea and red wine contain immune-modulating polyphenols known as flavonoids, which include quercetin and hesperidin.  Kiwi will boost your intake of flavonoids.  Resveratrol is a stilbene, a type of polyphenol that grape vines synthesize to kill fungus and bacteria in damp vineyards, and it does the same in your gut.  Mix up and/or rotate your fruit and vegetable intake to make sure you are maintaining a diversified consortium of health-promoting compounds.   By doing this, you build your defenses against the trashy spirochete Borrelia.  Yes, we seem to be easily distracted.

LW: You just called Borrelia trashy. I think I love you. Design an ideal menu-for-a-day  of polyphenol consumption, starting with breakfast. Include snacks, beverage and supplements. But please no pine bark. I just got my Invisalign braces off and I am the lymewhisperer, not the pinewhisperer, after all.

PP: Breakfast:  Organic mueslix or whole grain cereal such as rolled oatmeal sprinkled with cinnamon, apples and bananas, or mIxed berries.  1 cup green tea or dark coffee, and/or 8 oz orange or grapefruit juice.

Snack:  Several handfuls of almonds, a bar of dark chocolate, and a glass of 100% concord grape juice

Lunch:  Salmon with pepper and lemon with mixed vegetables and a whole grain such as brown rice.  A spinach salad with walnuts, dried cranberries, onions and feta cheese with maple dressing.  A couple of plums.

Snack:   Chocolate, strawberries and a cup of dark coffee

Happy hour:   1 pint Guinness or 2 glasses of Pinot Noir.  If you like the hard stuff, squeeze a flavonoid-rich lime wedge into it.  Fresher limes are better sources of wonderful polyphenols.

Hors d’oevres:  Mixed nuts, red grapes, multi-seeded flatbreads with artisan cheeses

Dinner:  Lean meat of choice, seasoned with some herbs and spices.  Steamed vegetables.  Sweet potatoes.   More wine.

Dessert:  A huge piece of blueberry pie

LW: Sounds like a great plan to me. Seeing as polyphenols have a ring like structure, any chance this ring like structure might serve to cage or corral Borrelia if one consumes a polyphenol rich diet?

PP:    Borrelia is a long, spiral-shaped bacterium known as a spirochete.  The phenolic ring structure is therefore a geometrically suitable guillotine, as shown here:

Borrelia getting choked by a polyphenol

LW: Thank you, this is great. You are artistic, obviously, and like to draw lizards… in addition to Borrelia apparently. Can you draw a lizard snatching up a tick with its long venomous tongue for the lymewhisperer? That would be gratifying.

 PP: Certainly Can. How’s this?:

LW: It’s quite rewarding, actually. Is there anything you’d like to say to Borrelia, while you have the stage?

PP:  I am a native of Pennsylvania, where Borrelia has intersected the lanky legs of several Heim family members.   Dealing with the Eagles-Steelers rivalry is hard enough, let alone the trash-talking spirochete who crashes parties in people’s dermal layers.  She needs to participate in the widespread undoing of her own crimes.  I propose the formulation and manufacturing an organic, polyphenol-fortified, spiral-shaped cereal called Borellios, to give her that purpose.  She can pose on the front of the box in a swank little twirly dress.

LW: WOW. Someone ate their wheaties this morning, Professor Polyphenol. Or was it Borreli-o’s?! Thank you for the interview, the inspiration, the information, and the odd ball humor. We needed all of it! Anyone interested in following Professor Polyphenol, please visit www.drkellyheim.com.