Metabolites are compounds produced naturally by plants during photosynthesis in order to flourish. Primary metabolites may be essential nutrients used for growth and development, while secondary metabolites are produced by the plants to attract pollinators or defend the plant against pests, herbivores or harmful organisms such as fungus.
What are Secondary Metabolites?
In nature, secondary metabolites allow the plants to flourish even in times of drought or low sunlight. They also protect the plants in less-than-ideal conditions, such as during times of high heat or excessive rainfall. In addition, the secondary metabolites produced by the plant promote speedy restoration of any damage and also attract insects, the natural pollinators of the plant to ensure the ongoing reproduction of new plants. In many ways, secondary metabolites are like a plant's guardian angel!
Why are Secondary Metabolites Important?
Scientific studies into plants show that the true power of secondary metabolites is their ability to interact with other metabolites and micronutrients to generate greater effectiveness. Evidence is now suggesting that important health benefits delivered by fruit, vegetables and other crops is delivered by these secondary metabolites. Unfortunately, pesticides and genetically modified (GMO) farming methods are killing off the secondary metabolites in crops, fruits and vegetables, denying us of their benefits through our diet.
How Secondary Metabolites can Boost Health
Although the term secondary metabolites makes these compounds sound inferior, scientists are discovering new ways that these compounds can boost the immune system, kill germs and protect the human body from free radical damage.
Tests show that secondary metabolites found in organically raised plant-based foods can deliver resveratrol for heart health; and saponins, a type of plant steroid which can reduce inflammation in the body. Codeine and morphine in the opium poppy are secondary metabolites that can ease pain; while erythromycin is a natural infection fighter. Other powerful secondary metabolites include salicin, found in white willow bark, which can alleviate headaches naturally.
Nature has provided us with so many health-giving benefits and medicinal sources which were commonly tapped into by ancient practices of alternative medicine. Now endangered by GM-produced strains of food, toxic pesticides and chemical fertilizers; the evidence increasingly points toward the important health benefits of eating organically whenever possible to ensure a steady supply of secondary metabolites in our diet.