In the summer of 1842, a German pharmacist-chemist named August Weiss was trying to discover the secrets of a common garden plant, rue (known to botanists as Ruta graveolens, or “smelly rue” due to the aggressive stench of its leaves). To his delight, he managed to extract a compound he called rutin, in honor of the plant in which he found it. Unfortunately, he couldn’t find a single useful thing about it, except that it was a bit yellowish and could be used as a dye.
It took over 100 years for scientists to recognize the tremendous healing potential of rutin. Nobel Prize-winning Hungarian biochemist Albert Szent-Györgyi was working with vitamin C and noticed that many of the foods containing vitamin C had more of a health-boosting punch than they should have.
He determined that there must be some other compound(s) in plants acting synergistically with vitamin C. As a result, he began looking for what he called “vitamin P” in a mixture of Hungarian red peppers (which gave the theoretical vitamin its letter) and lemon juice.
If you’re rootin’ for rutin to fit the bill, congratulations! While “vitamin P” never really caught on (eventually, it was discovered that rutin, along with many other plant compounds, were totally different from vitamins, and were dubbed “phytochemicals”), it did show that rutin is a nutritional powerhouse, with more health benefits being discovered all the time.
If rutin is already on your radar, you may have come across it as a supplement recommended for a variety of health conditions, including varicose veins and inflammation. You may also have heard about it in association with buckwheat, one of the plants highest in the nutrient.
But there’s much more to rutin’s uses than just vein-free skin. In this article, we’ll dive into the world of rutin, exploring its top health benefits, where and how to get it in food, and whether you need to take supplements to get enough.
What Is Rutin?
Rutin is a bioflavonoid formed by the flavonol quercetin and the disaccharide rutinose, which are plant chemicals that offer health benefits when consumed. Technically, rutin is what’s known as a glycoside, meaning it contains a sugar group that’s bonded to a non-sugar group (kind of like a merger of The Partridge Family and Death Cab for Cutie). Some plant-derived glycosides are poisonous to humans, but luckily, rutin isn’t among them.
As we’ve seen, it’s also sometimes referred to as vitamin P, but to be fair, it’s not the only compound that is. Rather than pick one flavonoid and give it all the glory, it’s more accurate to say that the whole lot of them, collectively, act as a “vitamin P” which increases the beneficial effects produced by citrus compounds.
Rutin is also an antioxidant powerhouse and may contribute to healing in the body. When combined with vitamin C, both antioxidants increase their effectiveness; the action of C combined with P exceeds the sum of the two compounds on their own. (Like how Paul McCartney and John Lennon were great songwriters individually, but transcendent as a duo. Or Abbott and Costello. Or — you get the idea.)
What Is Rutin Good for?
The more researchers look, the more good things they’re discovering about how rutin can support your health. But we have to be a little cautious here since many of the studies involved either test tubes or animals. That means the results may not translate directly into human benefit. (And here’s what we think about the use of animals in medical research.)
That said, there are some promising human trials on rutin. Even though they’re small, with not a lot of participants, the benefits of rutin have been so great that they were detectable even in small numbers.
One further disclaimer: Although there are a lot of studies that have looked at the health applications of rutin, they’ve all used rutin or rutinosides in supplemental form, and not in the context of whole foods. So just keep that in mind since, as with any plant compound, rutin likely works best synergistically with the variety of vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals that are found in whole foods.
Rutin and Vascular Health
Rutin has been shown in a number of clinical trials to produce modest improvements in severe symptoms of chronic venous insufficiency (CVI), a condition in which blood pools in the veins rather than circulating freely back to the heart. (I like to imagine the endothelial cells crooning the Back Street Boys’ “Back to Your Heart” over a soulful saxophone solo by the one-way valves in the legs.)
A 2016 meta-analysis found that rutin (also referred to as rutosides) reduced swelling, leg pain, and discomfort in people with varicose veins. To determine the mechanisms involved, researchers fed rutoside extracts to arthritic rats. They discovered that the extracts blocked certain genes responsible for inflammation in cells, and also inhibited the release of certain molecules that cause swelling.
Rutin’s Anti-Inflammatory Benefits
Inflammation and oxidation are at the root of many chronic diseases, so substances that protect you from those processes can deliver significant health benefits. An obviously cruel 2021 study out of India explored whether rutin could protect the livers, kidneys, and brains of rats from damage. The researchers administered different doses of rutin to the rats for six days and then exposed them to harmful substances called D-galactosamine and lipopolysaccharide on the sixth day.
After those exposures, several liver and kidney blood markers increased significantly, and tissue samples also showed signs of increased toxicity. But the rats who were given rutin beforehand showed fewer harmful effects.
The reason for this protection, according to current scientific understanding, is that rutin protects tissues by reversing inflammation, blocking the action of free radicals, and stopping healthy cells under attack from self-destructing prematurely.
Rutin Brain Benefits
Rutin has been found to have numerous positive effects on the brain, including reducing inflammation, protecting against toxic buildups of proteins, and improving the function of important enzymes. Researchers hope that rutin can help treat neurodegenerative diseases, including Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, Huntington’s, and prion diseases (I looked this up; they’re infectious brain diseases and not caused by being in an accident with a Prius).
Iranian scientists in 2018 conducted a pair of experiments to assess rutin’s potential to protect the brain and nervous system from damage. In the first one, rutin was found to enhance cell viability, reduce the production of reactive oxygen species (ROS) and lipid peroxidation (a nasty process that’s basically a cascade of molecular damage), and decrease DNA damage and self-directed cell death. These results suggest that rutin may have neuroprotective properties and could help prevent and treat strokes and neurodegenerative disorders.
Their second experiment investigated the effects of rutin in rats with reduced blood flow to the brain. The flavonoid protected against oxidative damage, inhibited apoptotic mechanisms (that is, it stopped cells from self-destructing when there was no need), and reduced DNA damage.
A 2023 mice study also explored the potential therapeutic effects of rutin and its related flavonoid, quercetin, in Alzheimer’s disease. Researchers found that both compounds may have beneficial effects on various markers of Alzheimer’s, including antioxidant enzyme activity, BACE1 activity (that’s an enzyme that’s key in the production of damaging amyloid plaque), and amyloid precursor protein (APP) expression, neurodegeneration, and inflammation.
In plain English, it looks like rutin is very good for your brain.
Rutin and Type 2 Diabetes
A 2016 study investigated the effects of rutin on diabetic neuropathy in rats. Rutin showed significant protection by reducing pain sensitivity and improving nerve conduction. It also lowered blood glucose and reduced oxidative stress and inflammation. In fact, rutin actually outperformed insulin, making it a promising treatment for diabetic neuropathy.
Then in 2023, a randomized, placebo-controlled trial examined what happened when adults with type 2 diabetes took 500 mg of rutin every day for three months. One group got the rutin, and the other got a placebo. The rutin group improved on a bunch of different disease markers, including fasting blood glucose, insulin, A1c (a long-term and stable measure of blood sugar), and various cholesterol levels and ratios.
Rutin and Cancer
Rutin is also getting more and more attention as a potential cancer fighter. It has demonstrated the ability to inhibit the growth of various cancers and tumors, including breast, colon, lung, and prostate cancers. Rutin regulates key signaling pathways involved in cancer development and apoptosis (cell death). And when used alone or with other drugs, rutin shows promise in preventing tumor growth, reducing drug resistance, and minimizing chemotherapy side effects.
In a 2021 test-tube study, rutin showed strong inhibitory effects against the Jab1 oncogene. This pugilistic-sounding gene inactivates proteins that suppress tumors, so switching it off allows the body to fight cancers with its own innate tools.
A 2022 test-tube study also explored mechanisms by which rutin slowed the progression of pancreatic cancer. Researchers found the flavonoid significantly inhibited pancreatic cancer cells’ proliferation and migration while promoting their self-destruction.
Rutin Heart Benefits
Rutin appears to counteract the harmful effects of certain pollutants on the heart. A 2021 study exposed rats to two environmental toxins, bisphenol-A (BPA) and dibutyl phthalate, on the cardiovascular system. Researchers found that these pollutants caused oxidative stress and inflammation in the heart. However, when the rats were given rutin, it prevented these negative effects by activating certain protective pathways in the heart.
What Foods Contain Rutin?
So now that you know how powerful rutin is for your health, where can you get it?
Unsurprisingly, you can get rutin from many different kinds of plant foods.
Buckwheat has the most dietary rutin of any plant studied so far. Tartary buckwheat malt and sprouts, in particular, can deliver as much as 54 grams per kilogram.
To find out more about the wonderful world of buckwheat, including the different kinds and how to include it in your diet, check out our article on buckwheat.
All apples contain rutin, but there are wide variations in how much. Some varieties have up to 20 times the rutin of others. Of the popular types you can find in the US, Granny Smith is the winner, although some Indian varieties, such as Lal Ambri, contain almost twice as much.
Both green and black olives are good sources of rutin — although a 2017 study gave green a slight edge.
For more information on the health implications of eating olives, including whether their salt content is a problem, check out our article here.
Citrus fruits contain both rutin and vitamin C, in that synergistic combination that so interested the Hungarian biochemist, Szent-Györgyi. Mandarin oranges are a particularly rich source of rutin.
6. Stone Fruits
Stone fruits, including apricots, cherries, plums, and peaches, are also great places to get your dietary rutin. If you can find an Eastern European plum variety called “Rausvė,” you’ll have met the rutin champion of stone fruits.
If you’re more of a veggie person looking for rutin, then asparagus is your friend. Green asparagus is a rich source and can contain between 1.51 and 7.29 mg/g.
Aside from specific foods that contain rutin, supplements containing rutin are also available, often in combination with vitamin C, citrus bioflavonoids, and quercetin.
However, even though it’s a potent antioxidant, health authorities like the FDA and the World Health Organization have never established a specific recommended dietary allowance for rutin. That said, it may be useful for some conditions, including one mentioned in the health benefits section of this article.
So how much rutin should you take? Is there such a thing as too much rutin?
Well, Spanish health authorities suggest an upper daily limit of 600 mg of supplements that contain both rutin and quercetin. As most rutin supplements deliver 500 mg, they’re under that limit.
Nevertheless, side effects of rutin supplementation may still occur. Rutin supplements could, at least in some rare cases, cause blurred vision, dizziness, headache, nervousness, slow or fast heartbeat, and swollen feet and ankles.
Rutin may also interact with some medications, such as blood thinners like warfarin. It’s usually a good idea to consult with a health care professional before starting any new supplement or medication.
Ultimately, if you want the health benefits of rutin without potential side effects, and in the synergistic combinations that inspired Albert Szent-Györgyi to search for the amazing vitamin P, you may want to get it from your diet with whole plant foods.
Recipes with Natural Rutin
As you have learned, rutin is a nutritional powerhouse that can do wonders for your health. So we’ve made it easy (and delicious) to enjoy rutin-rich foods any time of day. Whether you’re looking to help improve type 2 diabetes symptoms, protect your heart from cardiovascular disease, or nourish your brain, these rutin-rich recipes are a great addition to a well-rounded diet!
Both blueberries and buckwheat are great sources of rutin, and together (with a few other nourishing ingredients), you’ve got a heart-loving and brain-boosting recipe! Blueberry Buckwheat Breakfast Muffins, loaded with vitamin C, antioxidants, protein, and fiber, pack a hearty dose of plant-based nutrition that is uniquely satisfying and fun to eat!
Calling all olive lovers! If you are a superfan of salty, briny flavors, you’ll be happy to hear this Olive Tapenade is a good source of rutin, too! A savory combination of kalamata and black olives (or green if you’d like an additional boost of rutin) along with walnuts creates a delicious plant-based spread. Each bite is packed with healthy monounsaturated fats from the olives and healing omega-3 fatty acids from the walnuts, plus phytonutrients galore. This tapenade works well as a topping on your favorite creamy or tomato-based pasta, pizza, or herb crackers!
Were you excited to hear that matcha is a rich source of rutin? Us too! Enjoy the healing benefits of rutin (and many other antioxidants found in matcha) with Matcha Mint Lemonade. Refreshing cucumber, sweet pineapple, zingy lemon (which also contains rutin and vitamin C), and gently energizing matcha become a nourishing and invigorating beverage fit for a healthy diet and lifestyle!
We’re Rootin’ for Rutin!
Rutin, a natural pigment found in buckwheat, apples, olives, teas, citrus, stone fruits, asparagus, and other plant foods, is a powerful antioxidant with numerous health benefits. Rutin may be helpful with vascular health, inflammation reduction, brain health, type 2 diabetes management, cancer prevention, heart health, and more.
You can get rutin from dietary sources. And if you’re looking for even more, supplements may also have some potential benefits. However, it’s important to note that supplementation is not necessary for most people, and you may want to consult with a health care professional before starting a new supplement regimen. Incorporating rutin-rich foods into your diet will allow you to naturally enjoy the benefits of this remarkable compound and support your overall well-being.
Tell us in the comments:
What have you heard about rutin and other flavonoids? Were they on your radar before this article?
What are your favorite foods rich in rutin? Which ones would you like to try?
What high-rutin recipe will you make next?
Featured Image: iStock.com/Michelle Lee Photography
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