Apigenin is a very common, naturally-occurring polyphenol found in the plant kingdom with antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.
Polyphenols are a category of compounds found naturally in plant foods, such as fruits, vegetables, herbs, spices, tea, dark chocolate, and wine for example.
To date, a staggering 8000 types of polyphenols have been identified and these polyphenols can be further subdivided into other categories, one of which are flavonoids which is where we find apigenin – a bioactive compound with many health promoting properties.
For plants at least, flavonoids are used to protect themselves from pathogens and radiation from the sun. Some flavonoids are used to attract pollenating insects and flavonoids are also used by plants to regulate various metabolic functions – it’s this impact on metabolism where flavonoids, specifically apigenin confer a health benefit when consumed by humans.
In this post, we’ll further explore some of apigenin’s unique properties including the evidence for its role in helping insomnia, anxiety, and depression, reducing inflammation AND why apigenin is one of the darlings of the day where anti-aging and longevity research is concerned.
It all started with chamomile
Before we jump in, I thought it would be interesting to learn that the active ingredient in chamomile tea is, you guessed it – apigenin. Chamomile tea has long been used to ease anxiety, reduce stress, and help with sleep and to help calm the nerves.
I find it SO fascinating how we discover that much of what was used in folk medicine actually has evidence to support it. But then it makes me think “how did someone figure it out?” “How did it occur to someone to dry chamomile flowers, use them to make a tea and drink it or offer it to someone in need?”
No doubt it was a lot of trial and error and then patterns started to emerge – so cool.
While folk medicine is great and all, by today’s standards we want to know how much of an active ingredient is found in a given food and how much of that food or ingredient is needed for a therapeutic effect. Otherwise we have to rely on ancient evidence of anecdote or testimonials.
As with all foods, the amount of an active ingredient varies hugely from crop to crop, and growing region to growing region. Even the soil and weather conditions will affect how much of an active ingredient is found in a food which is why standardization is important. We want to be sure how much of an active ingredient we’re getting.
While apigenin is found in a lot of different foods, two of the best sources are chamomile which contains between 0.8 to 1.2% apigenin content by weight BUT the one food that gets talked about the most is parsley.
Dried parsley typically contains about 45 mg of apigenin per gram of parsley, and dried chamomile flowers contain about 3-5 mg per gram. The apigenin content of fresh parsley is a lot less compared to its dried form with only 2 mg per gram.
What we know from studies is that to reap the benefits of this awesome flavonoid, you simply cannot get enough apigenin from food – except maybe if you’re willing to consume 11 or more tablespoons of dried parsley. Every. Single. Day.
So, what does some of the research say?
Chamomile tea for insomnia
Where insomnia is concerned, a small study that had 34 subjects, ages 18-65 who suffered from insomnia were given a chamomile flower extract that contained at least 2.5 mg of apigenin.
In this case, an extract was used so that researchers could know how much apigenin subjects were getting and more importantly so they could be guaranteed that each subject was getting the same amount. This wouldn’t be possible with chamomile tea because the apigenin content would vary a lot from tea bag to tea bag and between brands.
To qualify for the study, participants had to have experienced insomnia for 6 months or longer and had a total daily sleep time of 6.5 hours or less. In this study, there were no differences in reported insomnia between those who got the extract and those who didn’t. Whether the results would have been different with a higher dose? It’s not known.
Chamomile for anxiety and depression
In addition to insomnia, chamomile tea has also been traditionally used to treat anxiety and depression. One 2016 study found statistically significantly lower anxiety levels in those who took 1500 mg of a standardized chamomile extract compared to those who got a placebo.
No reported adverse effects were noted. In this case, the dose of apigenin was much higher than what was used in the previous insomnia study. In the anxiety study, subjects got the equivalent of 18 mg of apigenin, or 7x more; an amount far greater than what chamomile tea could ever have.
Similarly, a 2012 study saw improvements in depression scores with similar intakes of apigenin also in the form of a chamomile extract. Both these findings are promising and suggest that apigenin, or at least chamomile extract, appears safe and has an antidepressant and anxiolytic effects. But that’s not all.
Chamomile has also been used for its anti-inflammatory properties so it’s not a surprise that the flavonoid apigenin also has many anti-inflammatory properties as well. Apigenin increases the production and activity of several enzyme-based antioxidants including GSH-synthase, catalase, and superoxide dismutase.
It’s because of apigenin’s potent anti-inflammatory properties that the longevity and anti-aging comm
unity is super excited about. Apigenin shows promise as a gero-protective agent. A gero-protector is just a fancy word that’s used to refer to a compound, such as carnosine, melatonin, niacin, CoQ10 etc., that aims to get to the root cause of aging and age-related diseases.
CD38 is a central player with inflammation
In the context of aging and metabolism, apigenin is a potent inhibitor of an enzyme called CD38. Now, CD38 is an important enzyme with many beneficial roles under so-called ideal (think youthful) physiological conditions.
The problem with CD38 is that there is an ever-increasing amount of it that builds up in cells as we get older, and to remind listeners, from a cellular health point of view, getting “quote” older, starts earlier than we’d like to think or care to admit…some cells and their systems begin aging as early as age 30…other aging processes start later but by the time you’re 45 or more, the pace of aging starts to increase and this is reflected by higher concentrations of CD38 in cells throughout our entire bodies.
So, what causes CD38 concentration to increase, and why do we even care?
Senescent cells a.k.a. zombie cells
As your body ages, more and more of your cells become senescent and senescent cells cannot divide or support the tissues those cells are found in. Senescent cells have entered their end-of-life phase, but it gets worse. Senescent cells can long function properly, they become decrepit in sense. They’re not dead but rather more like a semi dead state – it’s for this reason that senescent are referred to as “zombie cells” and like zombies, they’re kinda on a mission of destruction.
Senescent cells secrete chemical signals that encourage nearby healthy cells to enter the same senescent, zombie like state. I guess misery loves company and senescent cells probably figure, “hey, if I’m going out, I’m gonna take as many others as I can with me”. The presence of senescent cells causes many problems: they reduce tissue repair, increase chronic inflammation, and can even eventually raise the risk of cancer and other age-related diseases. Now that’s a party pooper.
In simplest terms, senescent cells, and the pro-inflammatory molecules that they secrete increase the amount CD38 in our cells. In order for CD38 to function, it consumes NAD for energy. Depending on the cell type, CD38 degrades, or uses up between 100 and 500 molecules of NAD – yikes!
So now we have an ever-worsening situation. As we hit, say, 35 years of age, we have decreasing levels of NAD and at the same time increasing amounts of CD38 and with lower and lower levels of NAD accompanied by increasing amounts of CD38, many of the 9 hallmarks of aging rear their heads.
This situation is one of the main drivers of age-related inflammation, chronic disease, and chronic disease progression.
Nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide or NAD to the rescue
Maintaining, or at least improving NAD levels is an effective strategy to combat the negative effects of CD38. There are two ways of doing this; you could try to boost NAD levels by taking NAD boosting precursor nutrients such as vitamin B3 (niacin) or derivatives of B3 including nicotinamide ribose or NR or nicotinamide mononucleotide or NMN, or you could try to reduce the amount of NAD consuming CD38.
Think of it this way, if you had a bucket with a leak, you could maintain the amount of water in the bucket by slowly trickling in more water OR you could plug the leak. Of course, you could do both which is arguably better.
It’s the same with NAD. Using the bucket analogy, you could add more NAD precursors to the system (adding water) or you could lower CD38 (plugging the hole).
So, what does this all have to do with apigenin? Lots.
CD38 is inhibited by apigenin, as well as quercetin, but by far, apigenin IS the most potent. One of the most effective ways to improve your NAD levels is simply by taking an effective dose of apigenin which reduces CD38 by a whopping 66% which leads to an equally impressive doubling in NAD levels – all this without even taking any NAD boosters.
So, when it comes to NAD-boosting and CD38-squashing, how much of this stuff needs to be consumed? A study found that between 3 and 10mg per kg of body weight was required. That’s a large range. As an example, I weight 70 kg so I’d need between 210 mg and 700 mg of apigenin per day or on average, about 450-500 mg per day. To get that amount, I could consume 10 or more tablespoons of dried parsley, or take a good quality apigenin supplement.
Additional apigenin benefits
In addition to its effect on NAD, the flavonoid apigenin has also been shown to:
- Work as an antioxidant
- Reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression
- Help to delay the age-related decline in testosterone levels.
- Increase the uptake of glucose from circulation into peripheral tissues.
- Enhance insulin release from the pancreas.
- Lowers inflammation & more
If you’d like to learn more on apigenin, I’d encourage you to read the paper by Salehi in the Mar 15, 2019 publication of the International Journal of Molecular Science titled “The Therapeutic Potential of Apigenin” where you’ll find a comprehensive and thorough overview of the fascinating topic.
When it comes to a high quality, proven and effective apigenin supplement, as an affiliate, I highly recommend Do Not Age. One serving of Do Not Age’s Pure Apigenin capsules contains 500mg of apigenin.
Many apigenin products on the market do not store well and lose potency very quickly. DoNotAge.org’s Pure Apigenin is different because it’s bound to beta glycosides, which prevents it from degradation, and it’s fully stabilized to ensure its potency over the long term.
All of Do Not Age’s products are produced to GMP and ISO9001 standards and are manufactured and stored in cool, dark, and dry environments with 3rd party testing for purity. Do Not Age’s apigenin is suitable for vegans.
And finally, if you’d like to purchase apigenin or any other products by Do Not Age, you can use my affiliate code DOUGCOOK (all one word) at check out to receive 10% off your purchase.
Until next time, have a great day
Doug Cook RDN is a Toronto based integrative and functional nutritionist and dietitian with a focus on brain and mental health and antiaging nutrition. Follow me on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.