Bioflavonoids, Vitamin P and Inflammation

In October, I was privileged to meet Professor Miklos Gabor of the Albert
Szent-Gyorgyi Medical University of Szeged, Hungary. Dr. Gabor has published
more than 200 research reports and five books on flavonoids. He has also
served as the scientific editor of other books on bioflavonoids. In 1990,
Dr. Gabor received the Jancso Medal and Award for his outstanding results
and scientific work of high quality, and in 1993, he received the Novicardin
Prize awarded by the Hungarian Academy of Sciences.

Professor Gabor and I had a common interest besides Pycnogenol(R) research.
We had a common friend, the late Nobel Laureate, Dr. Albert Szent-Gyorgyi
(1893-1986). Professor Gabor was now carrying on bioflavonoid research at
the University named in honor of Dr. Szent-Gyorgyi (Americanized pronunciation
is Saint Jor’-jee).

Before I share what I learned about bioflavonoids from Dr. Gabor with you,
let me tell you a little about Dr. Szent-Gyorgyi, who discovered the biological
importance of bioflavonoids. Dr. Szent-Gyorgyi was born in Budapest, but
was claimed by the U. S. and Hungary alike, and he conducted his research
while spending time in Cambridge, England; the Mayo Clinic, Minnesota; Woods Hole, Massachusetts and Hungary.

Dr. Szent-Gyorgyi was more than a pioneer of biochemistry — he was a “father” of biochemistry. He was awarded the Nobel Prize in Medicine in 1937 for
his discovery of the biological oxidation process with special regard to
vitamin C and fumaric acid catalysis. In 1928 he isolated what he at first
called “hexuronic acid,” but is now called “ascorbic acid”
or vitamin C. He also “discovered” the muscle protein actin, actomyosin
and their relationship to ATP. He discovered the C4 dicarboxylic acid catalysis
that forms the basis of the Krebs cycle which was pioneering research on
how food is converted into energy. His keen mind and bright ideas opened
the doors to many areas of biochemical research. He taught us so much, yet
he was often labeled a “maverick” because of his new ideas.

Dr. Szent-Gyorgyi always professed that his discovery of the biological
function of bioflavonoids was serendipitous. He found something he did not
seek. While he was trying to isolate vitamin C, his colleague Professor
I. (St.) Rusznyak had a patient with subcutaneous capillary bleedings. They
thought that vitamin C might help, so they gave the patient an impure preparation
that contained vitamin C plus other compounds. They achieved a rapid success.
Later, a similar patient was treated with a pure solution of vitamin C expecting
quicker success, but instead, the pure solution had no effect. So they went
back to the impure solution. Dr Szent-Gyorgyi suspected that a flavone might
be the key factor.

In 1935, Dr. Szent-Gyorgyi and his associate Dr. I. (St.) Rusznyak, isolated
a “factor” from lemon juice that decreased the permeability and
increased the resistance of the capillary wall. At first, chemical analysis
indicated that this factor was a single flavonoid compound and it was named
“citrin.” Because of the effect on capillary health, Dr. Szent-Gyorgyi
also called this factor “vitamin P.” [Nature 138:798;1936, Nature

He chose “a letter on the far unoccupied side of the ABC” letters
already being used to designate vitamins in case that bioflavonoids were
not found to be true vitamins “correction could be made without confusion.”
The letter “P” was convenient because it could stand for “permeability,”
“purpura” or “petechiae.” The “vitamin P”
normalized the low capillary resistance of vascular purpura patients. In
1936, Dr. Szent-Gyorgyi and his associate, Dr. V. Bruckner found that citrin
was actually a mixture of the flavone hesperidin and eriodictiol glycoside,
a flavonol glucoside. [Nature 138:1057;1936]

By 1936, studies by Dr. Szent-Gyorgyi and associates with guinea pigs indicated
bioflavonoids and vitamin C were synergistic and interdependent. In 1936,
Dr. Janey reported the favorable effects of flavonoids on intact and poisoned
frog hearts. In 1937, Dr. Huszak reported on the biochemistry of parenterally
administered “citrin.” Other researchers such as Zemplen, Bognar,
and Farkas actively researched the biochemistry of flavonoids. However,
in 1938, Dr. Szent-Gyorgyi reported that he could not substantiate that
bioflavonoids were truly essential nutrients.

It was the discovery in Szeged that called attention to the biological actions
of flavonoids, and from 1940 onwards, researchers from many countries began
studying the biochemical effects of flavonoids such as catechins, proanthocyanidins,
rutin, etc. Hungarian researchers had started the research on the biochemistry
of flavonoids, and today remain leaders in the field.

I had the pleasure of discussing vitamin C and the role of electron transport
and the electronic desaturation of protein molecules in the cancer process
with Dr. Szent-Gyorgyi many times during 1972 through 1979, as well as lecturing
together. Dr. Szent-Gyorgyi would discuss my joint research with Dr. Keith
Brewer on energy transfer in cell membranes via double bond excitation.
This research was published in American Laboratory in a five-part series
from 1974 through 1976.

In a March 19, 1973 letter to me, Dr. Szent-Gyorgyi remarked, “I have
not published anything on cancer in a long time, though I have been working
very hard. I arrived at a new concept, but my ideas are not in disagreement
with yours, they are complementary.”

We were both working on our “electronic theory for cancer,” or
as Dr. Szent-Gyorgyi liked to call it, the “electronic dimension of
life and cancer.” Dr. Szent-Gyorgyi called our approaches complementary
because we were both examining the participation of cellular structures
— not just the liquid-state compounds. Also, I was publishing on the free-radical
initiation of cancer and he was investigating the electron transfer system
within structural proteins that allowed them to become semiconductors by
oscillating between two states — one of which was a free radical state.

He had observed that structural proteins in cells are the color of “a
good Swiss chocolate.” The color is due to the presence of an electron
transfer system in structural proteins which transforms them into free radicals.
However, the structural proteins in cancer cells are colorless, indicating
that their electron acceptors are missing or have been damaged.

Dr. Szent-Gyorgyi also found that dicarbonyls produced by the electron transfer
process were capable of stopping cell division. He reasoned that the defective
electron transfer system in cellular proteins allowed the cells to engage
in uncontrolled cell division, thus become cancer cells.

Cancer cells have lost their ability to be semiconductors. Their structural
proteins can no longer accept the single electrons of free radicals, and
thus in turn temporarily become free radicals themselves, and then cause
the formation of cell-regulating by-products such as dicarbonyls.

Dr. Szent-Gyorgyi was a fascinating man with many brilliant concepts, and
provided much encouragement for my research. He often shared his views on
true discovery and how it must by nature seem radical and wrong to everyone
— or it wouldn’t be a true discovery. Occasionally, Dr. Szent-Gyorgyi and
I would discuss the role of bioflavonoids as nutrients, and that Dr. Szent-Gyorgyi
still thought that some good modern research would clarify the “essential
or nearly essential” importance of bioflavonoids. You can see that
my meeting Dr. Gabor has brought back many fond memories of Dr. Szent-Gyorgyi
and that Dr. Gabor and I had some long chats about our mutual friend.

In the foreword to one of Professor Miklos Gabor’s books, Dr. Szent-Gyorgyi
remarked in 1972, “American science did not take in a friendly spirit
to vitamin P and the name “vitamin” was dropped. More than that,
discussions have been going on to strike the flavones altogether from the
lists of (nutrients and) drugs, since no therapeutic action has been found.
I think the contradiction is due to the fact that in the USA, citrus fruits
belong to people’s regular daily diet. They are rich in flavones, so a (total)
lack in flavones is very rare, and if there is no deficiency, a vitamin
has no action. In contrast to this, in countries where citrus fruits are
expensive, the lack of flavones may cause trouble and their medication may
show favorable effects. While these discussions were going on, important
experimental material was collected in Hungary which, in my mind, leaves
no doubt about the vitamin nature and the biological activity of flavones.

However, others do not share this conclusion. In Dr. Gabor’s 1986 book,
Dr. Middleton writes in the foreword, “There seems to be a resurgence
of interest in flavonoid research in recent years after the vitamin P
era had come to its proper conclusion. ” Dr. Middleton also remarks,
“For many years one worker and his colleagues in the “flavonoid
fields” persistently has kept our attention focused on the relevance
of flavonoid research. This individual, Professor Miklos Gabor, deserves
great credit for his insight and perseverance.”

In October 1993, I had the chance to chat with Dr Gabor who is the world’s
leading expert on the role of bioflavonoids and capillary health and also
to compare stories about Dr. Szent-Gyorgyi. I will try to share some of
his knowledge of bioflavonoids and capillary health with you.

Passwater: Dr. Gabor, did you have the opportunity to do research
with Dr. Szent-Gyorgyi?

Gabor: No, during the stay of Dr. Szent-Gyorgyi at Szeged, I was
a student. However, I did attend his lectures and have the opportunity to
know him then, and of course, we had a continuing scientific dialog through
the years.

Passwater: You are the world’s leading authority on bioflavonoids
and capillary health. You have published many research reports and have
written several books on bioflavonoids, capillary permeability edema and
inflammation. What originally aroused your interest in this field, and what
continues to hold your interest?

Gabor: During the period from 1950 to 1954 in the Department of Pharmacology
of the Szeged University Medical School, I began my research with some naturally
occurring compounds — haematoxylin, haematein, brasilin and brasilein —
which can be broadly considered as members of the bioflavonoid family. Our
research group demonstrated that these natural dyestuffs can decrease the
increased vascular permeability in guinea pig eyes and skin capillaries
of rats.

After we demonstrated the permeability-decreasing action of haematoxylin
compounds, we examined their ability to normalize lowered capillary resistance.
The permeability of capillaries is quite important to health, and the effect
of various nutrients on capillary permeability fascinates me. My first book
deals with the pharmacology of capillary resistance, including the effects
of bioflavonoids. This book “Die Pharmakologische Beeinflussung der
Kapillarresistenz und Ihrer Regulationsmechahanismen” was published
by the Hungarian Academy of Sciences (Akademiai Kiado, Budapest) in 1960.

In 1965, the Hungarian Academy of Sciences founded a Committee for Flavonoid
research. In 1965 and 1967, I was privileged to organize the first and second
international symposia on bioflavonoids. Since then, these symposia have
been held every four-to-five years. The next international bioflavonoid
symposium entitled the “Ninth Hungarian Bioflavonoid Symposium”
will be held in Wien (Austria) in 1995. However, I have to emphasize that
a conference more limited in scope was the conference on “Bioflavonoids
and the Capillary,” which was organized by the New York Academy of
Sciences and held on February 11, 1955.

In 1972, Dr. Szent-Gyorgyi wrote the foreword for my English-language book,
“The Anti-inflammatory Action of Flavonoids.” The foreword to
my 1986 English-language book, “The Pharmacology of Benzopyrone Derivatives
(Flavonoids) and Related Compounds” was written by Professor Elliott
Middleton, Jr. of the State University of New York at Buffalo. So you can
see that my interest in bioflavonoids is very strong.

Passwater: Yes, and so is the interest of Professor Middleton. I
have co-authored a book on Pycnogenol(R) [Keats Publ., 1993] with a colleague
of Professor Middleton at Buffalo, Dr. Chithan Kandaswami. We discuss Drs.
Middleton’s and Kandaswami’s research on cancer and bioflavonoids in this
new book and in upcoming Health Connection columns continuing the interview
series with Dr. Kandaswami.

I also note that Dr. Hans Selye wrote a foreword to your 1974 book, “Pathophysiology
and Pharmacology of Capillary Resistance.”

Evidence is lacking that bioflavonoids are essential nutrients. Is that
because they are not essential or is it merely because that no diets have
been developed that are totally free of bioflavonoids? I note that in the
scientific literature you have studied the blood brain barrier and aorta
structural abnormalities produced by what you call “P avitaminosis”
(a deficiency of “vitamin P”) produced by flavonoid-free diets.
Would you please elaborate a little for us on “P avitaminosis? Do humans
and other animals get enough bioflavonoids in their experimental or normal
diets to prevent a recognized bioflavonoid deficiency from being observed?

Gabor: Many experimental “fragilizing” diets have now been
developed that are totally free of bioflavonoids. Humans and other animals
get enough bioflavonoids in their normal or experimental diets to prevent
a frank bioflavonoid deficiency.

I should like to mention here that the estimated daily dietary intake of
flavonoids in the United States is about one gram. This originates from
cereals, potatoes, bulbs, roots, peanuts, nuts, vegetables, herbs, fruits,
fruit juices, cocoa, cola, coffee, beer and wine. Flavonoids may be present
in amounts up to a hundred milligrams per kilogram of fresh weight in soft
fruits and their juices. Anthocyanin may be present in rich amounts in some
foods such as raspberry, which can contain hundreds of milligrams per hundred
grams of fresh weight. Notable sources of anthocyanins are red cabbage,
onion, beans, radishes, and rhubarb sticks.

The concentration of catechins in ripe fruits is about five -to-twenty milligrams
per hundred grams of fresh weight. Dimeric proanthocyanidins occur in unripe
berries and the leaves of soft fruit plants in amounts ranging between fifty
and five hundred milligrams per hundred grams of fresh weight. Some proanthocyanidins
are present in apples and grapes. Flavonoids are in tea, cocoa, wine and

Perhaps, Dr. Szent-Gyorgyi was technically correct in saying that certain
bioflavonoids, as a group, should have vitamin status. However, frank bioflavonoid
deficiency is not a major problem. Today we don’t seem to eat enough bioflavonoids
for optimal health, but we do seem to get enough to prevent “P
avitaminosis.” Keep in mind that bioflavonoids are important to blood
vessel health and even protection from heart disease, and there is a definite
benefit to be obtained by optimizing dietary bioflavonoid intake. We should
do more research on the benefits of bioflavonoids and not be distracted
by the question of whether or not bioflavonoids should have vitamin status.

Keep in mind that Dr. Szent-Gyorgyi’s experiments indicated that at least
a trace of vitamin C must be present to observe the vitamin-like effect
of the bioflavonoids. In his experiments, guinea pigs were kept on the scorbutic
Sherman – La Mer – Campbell deficiency diet. One group, the untreated controls,
died in an average of 28.5 days. The group given one milligram of citrin
daily for six weeks lived an average of 44 days. All of the animals in both
groups showed the typical symptoms of scurvy. Dr. Szent-Gyorgyi and his
colleagues concluded, “these results suggest that experimental scurvy,
as commonly known, is a deficiency disease caused by the combined lack of
vitamins C and P.”

Dr. Szent-Gyorgyi asked other scientists to repeat his studies. The results
were partly corroborative and partly negative. In 1937, Drs. Szent-Gyorgyi
and Bentsath stated, “vitamin P requires for its activity the presence
of ascorbic acid. A scurvy diet frequently contains traces which in themselves
have no influence on the development of scurvy, but enable vitamin P to
act. In the total absence of ascorbic acid, vitamin P is inactive.”
[Nature 140:426;1937]

Passwater: There certainly is a synergism between vitamin C and the
bioflavonoids. They protect each other against oxidation and have other
interactions. Let’s move on to the importance of bioflavonoids to health.
Capillaries are important because they carry nutrients to cells and carry
away waste. Capillaries must be permeable enough to allow fluids to seep
out of the capillaries, mix with the fluid that surrounds all of the cells,
and then reenter the capillaries. If the capillaries are too permeable,
too much fluid and protein seep out resulting in edema, and even red blood
cells may also seep out causing bruising and red spots. You have even designed
a simple portable petechiometer to measure the degree of petechiae (small
hemorrhages appearing as red spots) formation permitted by weak capillaries.
If capillaries are too permeable, they are no longer a barrier to infection.
Dr. Gabor, what has your research shown regarding Pycnogenol(R) and capillary

Gabor: I have studied the effect of water-soluble flavone derivatives
including proanthocyanidins and hesperidin-methylchalcone on the vascular
wall resistance in rats with spontaneous hypertension (high blood pressure).
My investigation revealed that the pathologically low capillary resistance
in rats with spontaneous hypertension was normalized by treatment with oligomeric
proanthocyanidin. This research will be published this year in Scripta

Thus, Pycnogenol(R) increases pathologically low capillary resistance, decreases
undesirably high capillary permeability and improves circulation. As I explain
in my upcoming Scripta Phlebologica report, the anti-inflammatory
action of proanthocyanidins may be based on increasing the capillary resistance,
but additional factors should be considered. The antioxidant action of Pycnogenol(R)
has been reported; it can scavenge superoxide radicals, it reduces UV-B
radiation-induced cytotoxicity of fibroblasts and inhibits lipid peroxidation.

Free radicals and other reactive oxygen species are formed at the sites
of inflammation and contribute to tissue damage. The scavenging effect of
Pycnogenol(R) for radicals correlates with its anti-inflammatory activity.
Pycnogenol(R) may also act by inhibiting lipoxygenase and cyclooxygenase.

Passwater: Aha! Most people assume that it’s the high blood pressure
alone that bursts the blood vessels, but it is the decreased capillary resistance
and increased permeability that cause the blood vessel to bleed and weaken
enough to burst.

So, if low capillary resistance is common in people with high blood pressure,
and this is a major factor that leads to stroke and retinal hemorrhage,

your study is of major importance to the millions of people with high
blood pressure. Your findings could drastically reduce the incidence of
Please elaborate on your study.

Gabor: It has long been known that the capillary resistance is pathologically
decreased in a considerable proportion of hypertensive persons [Griffith
and Lindauer, 1944; Kuchmeister and Scharfe, 1950; Gough, 1962; Davis and
Landau, 1970; etc.]

Special mention should be made of the observation that, if hypertension
is associated with a low capillary resistance, the incidence of cerebral
insults (apoplexy, stroke) and retinal hemorrhage is essentially higher
[Griffith and Lindauer, 1944]. It was established by Paterson in 1940 that
capillary rupture accompanied by intimal bleeding plays a role in the mechanism
of cerebral arterial thrombosis. He assumed that, at the intracapillary
pressure resulting from the high blood pressure, the capillary fragility
(which is enhanced for various reasons) is responsible for the intimal rupture
of the cerebral arterial capillaries.

These data stimulated us to carry out capillary resistance determinations
in spontaneous hypertension rats. As the results reveal, pathologically
low values were observed in the large majority of the experimental animals.

In connection with the flavonoids used, it may be mentioned that oligomeric
proanthocyanidin, isolated from Pinus maritima, was selected because its
indications are to increase pathologically low capillary resistance, to
decrease an enhanced capillary permeability, and to improve the circulation.

My study revealed that the pathologically low vascular wall resistance of
spontaneous hypertension rats can be elevated by treatment with oligomeric

Passwater: Does your research indicate that Pycnogenol(R) would be
of help to people having fragile capillaries that might result in problems
such as bleeding gums, floaters caused by bleeding into the retina, glaucoma,
bleeding kidneys, and stroke? Also, I have seen European studies that show
that Pycnogenol(R) is a nutritional adjunct that helps against varicose
veins, heavy menstrual bleeding, hemorrhoids and the complications of diabetes.

Gabor: I have not personally conducted clinical trials on these conditions
per se, however, capillary health is compromised in all of these conditions,
and Pycnogenol(R) acts to improve capillary health by improving their bioflavonoid

Passwater: For many years you have been studying the effects of flavonoids
on the capillary resistance of psoriatic patients. A friend of mine in Manchester,
England, Dennis Gore, has reported anecdotal data to me that proanthocyanidins
seem to be effective against psoriasis itself. Have you noticed this in
your studies?

Gabor: Proanthocyanidins are used successfully against diseases characterized
by capillary bleeding associated with increased capillary fragility. The
capillary resistance of psoriatic patients is significantly lower than that
of healthy persons. Pycnogenol(R) tends to restore normal capillary resistance
in these psoriatic patients. However, I have not conducted a clinical trial
of the effect of Pycnogenol(R) on psoriasis as a disease state. I have studied
what may be the causative component of the disease and I have shown that
bioflavonoids can correct this factor.

Passwater: How do the bioflavonoids help capillaries maintain their
proper resistance and permeability?

Gabor: As you know, I have been studying the actions of the flavonoids
in elevating capillary resistance since the early 1950’s and in 1974 I published
a detailed survey of the results of all of the relevant research up to that
date. However, just as with inflammation, we still have a lot to learn about
the “how” part. Even though we need to learn more about the mechanism
involved, we do know that the effects are real. I have observed that Pycnogenol(R)
improves the capillary resistance within two hours and maintains it longer
than eight hours.

Passwater: What has your research shown about bioflavonoids and inflammation?

Gabor: I earlier reported that proanthocyanidin significantly decreased
the inflammation and edema induced by serotonin, prostaglandin or carrageenin.
The decrease is dose-dependent and statistically significant. [Gabor &
Razga, Acta Physiol. Hung. 77:197-207 (1991)] Pycnogenol(R), sophoricoside
and fisetin are the most effective flavonoids against inflammation that
I have tested, and Pycnogenol(R) has the advantage of being very water soluble
and bioavailable.

The mechanisms at play involve the inhibition of several chemical mediators
including histamine, prostaglandins, 5-hydroxytryptamine and kinins. Also,
these flavonoids can block undesirable actions of lipoxygenase and cyclooxygenase.

The actions of Pycnogenol(R) against inflammation are different than those
of rutin, hesperidin and the citroflavonoids.

Passwater: What are your interests for future research?

Gabor: Sixty years after the pioneering research by Rusznyak and
Szent-Gyorgyi, the question naturally arises as to the explanation of the
renaissance in flavonoid research. The answer is clear: chemists have synthesized
new flavonoid derivatives with previously unknown biological effects; phytochemists
have isolated numerous new flavonoids from many plants; biochemists have
demonstrated the most varied effects on different enzymes; and an ever increasing
number of pharmacologic effects have become known through variations of
the chemical structures of the flavonoids and related compounds. This research
has led to the discovery of many new drugs that can be applied for therapeutic
purposes. In these words you can find the future of the research of bioflavonoids.
Personally, I am working now with experimentally induced edema and with
the effects of various drugs on this phenomenon.

Thank you, Dr. Gabor.

All rights, including electronic and print media, to this article are copyrighted
to © Richard A. Passwater, Ph.D. and Whole Foods magazine (WFC Inc.).

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Written by Richard A. Passwater PhD

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