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A to Z of Health Terms

Have you ever wondered what all those long names that are hard to pronounce are? or even what they mean?  Here we have a glossary of terms from a to z for you to familiarise yourself with.  By Tom Stavely & Rob Fordham



Acetylcholine: (uh-SEAT-ill-CO-lean) A choline-based compound used in the transmission of nerve impulses.

Acidophilus: (Ah-si-DAH-fill-us)  is a species of gram positive bacteria in the genus LactobacillusL. acidophilus is a species, fermenting sugars into lactic, and grows readily at rather low pH values (below pH 5.0) and has an optimum growth temperature of around 37 °C (99 °F). L. acidophilus occurs naturally in the human and animal gastrointestinal tract and mouth.

Adaptogen: (uh-DAP-toe-jin) A substance that helps normalize body functions in times of stress.

Alpha linolenic acid (LNA): (AL-fuh  lin-OH-len-ick  A-sid) An omega-3 fatty acid found in soybeans, nuts, canola oil and flaxseed oil.

Alpha lipoic acid: (AL-fuh  lip-OH-ick  A-sid) A vitamin-like substance with powerful antioxidant capabilities. Helps support heavy metal detoxification.

Alpha tocopherol: (AL-fuh  toe-COUGH-er-all) The most active form of vitamin E. Natural vitamin E is designated with a "D" (D-alpha tocopherol), while "DL" (DL-alpha tocopherol) represents the synthetic form.

Anthocyanidins: (an-though-SIGH-an-id-inz) A class of antioxidant plant pigments ranging in colors from red to blue.

Antioxidant: (an-tee-OX-sid-ent) A substance that inhibits oxidative or free-radical damage.

Ascorbic acid: (uh-SCORE-bick A-sid) The chemical name for vitamin C.

ATP (adenosine triphosphate): (uh-DEN-oh-sen  try-FOSS-fate) The phosphate compound that serves as the chief energy-storage material for all cells.


Beta-carotene: (BAY-ta –CARE-ah-teen) An antioxidant plant compound that can be converted by the body into vitamin A. see encyclodpedia entry

Beta cells: (BAY-ta  cells) Cells in the pancreas responsible for insulin production.

Bioflavanoids: Bioflavonoids are a large family of substances found in most of the same foods that are good sources of vitamin C. In fact, researchers have identified more than 8,000 naturally occurring bioflavonoid structures. Bioflavonoids (also called flavonoids) are the natural pigments that give fruits and vegetables their color.


Carotenoid: (kuh-ROT-en-oyd) A family of plant pigments (including alpha carotene, beta-carotene, lycopene, etc.), many of which exhibit antioxidant properties.

Catalyst: (CAT-ill-ist) A substance that increases the rate of a chemical reaction but is not affected by that reaction.

Catechins: (CAT-a-kin) Antioxidant flavonoids found in green tea.

Cathartic: (kuh-THAR-tick) A substance that stimulates bowel movements.

Chelation: (key-LAY-shun) The bonding of minerals to amino acids or other carrier compounds to aid absorption by the body.

Citrate: (SI-trate) Any salt of citric acid.

Citric acid: (SI-trick  A-sid) A tribasic acid found in citrus fruits that acts as an intermediary in the tricarboxylic (Krebs’) cycle.

Coenzyme: (coenzyme A) A nonprotein substance needed to complete an enzyme, usually a vitamin or mineral.

Collagen: (KOLL-uh-jen) The protein that serves as the main component of connective tissue.


Demineralization: (dee-min-er-all-ih-ZAY-shun) The loss of minerals from bones.

DHA (docosahexaenoic acid): (doe-co-sah-heck-sah-NO-ick  Ah-sid) An omega-3 fatty acid found primarily in cold-water fish.

DHEA (dehydroepiandrosterone): (dee-high-drow-ep-ee-an-DROW-stare-own) A steroid hormone produced in the adrenal glands, it is converted by the body into other hormones.


Electrolytes: (ih-LECK-trow-lights) Minerals that dissolve in water and are capable of carrying electrical charges.

Enteric-coated: (en-TARE-ick  coated) A tablet or capsule that is coated so it is not dissolved in the stomach and arrives at the intestinal tract intact.

Enzyme: (EN-zime) A protein that speeds up chemical reactions in the body.

Essential fatty acids (EFAs): (essential fatty acids) Fatty acids that are required by the body but cannot be manufactured in the body. They must be obtained from the diet.


Flavonoids: (FLAV-ah-noydz) A group of flavone-containing compounds that includes many plant pigments. These pigments may exert a variety of physiological effects in the body.

Free radicals: (free  RAD-ick-allz) Highly reactive oxygen molecules that can destroy cellular compounds, damaging tissues.

Fructooligosaccharides (FOS): (FROOK-toe-all-ih-go-SACK-a-ridez  ) Natural sugars that help nourish beneficial bacteria in the large intestine.


Gamma linolenic acid (GLA): (GAM-uh  lin-OH-len-ick A-sid) An omega-6 fatty acid found in evening primrose oil and borage oil.

Glutathione: (glue-ta-THIGH-own) The body's most prevalent antioxidant enzyme.


High density lipoprotein (HDL): (HDL) Often called "good cholesterol" because it helps remove LDL cholesterol from the bloodstream.

Histamine: (HISS-ta-mean) A chemical released in the body when an allergic reaction occurs, responsible for many allergy symptoms.

Homocysteine: (HOE-moe-SIS-teen) A natural amino acid metabolite that can damage artery walls.


Immunoglobulins: (im-you-no-GLOB-you-linz) Antibodies.

Isoflavones: (eye-so-FLAY-vownz) Hormone-like compounds found in soy beans.


Keratin: (CARE-uh-tin) An insoluble protein found in hair, skin, and nails.


Leukocyte: (LUKE-oh-sight) White blood cell.

Lipids: (LIP-edz) Fats or fatty substances including cholesterols, triglycerides, and phospholipids.

Lymph nodes: (LIMF nodes  ) Glands located in the lymph vessels that trap foreign material and protect the bloodstream from infection.

Lymphocytes: (LIMF-uh-sight) A type of white blood cell found primarily in lymph nodes. They are crucial components of the immune system.


Malabsorption: (ma-lub-SORP-shun) Impaired absorption of nutrients during digestion, often due to diarrhea.

Mitochondria: (might-o-CON-dree-uh) Rod-shaped structures in cells that serve as miniature power plants, converting glucose into energy.

Mucilage: (MEW-sill-age) Soluble fiber found in beans, seeds, nuts, and grains.


Neurotransmitters: (new-row-trans-MITT-erz) Chemicals that transmit messages among brain cells and along nerves.


OPCs (oligomeric proanthocyanidins): (OPCs) Antioxidant flavonoids found in red wine and some plants. Most OPC supplements are made from grapeseeds or pine bark.


Phosphatidylcholine: (foss-fa-TIDE-ill-CO-leen) A choline-based substance that is a key structural component of cell walls.

Polyphenols: are abundant micronutrients in our diet, and evidence for their role in the prevention of degenerative diseases such as cancer and cardiovascular diseases is emerging. The health effects of polyphenols depend on the amount consumed and on their bioavailability.

Probiotic: (PRO-by-ah-tick) A live bacterial supplement that improves the intestinal microbial balance. Common forms include lactobacillus and bifidobacterium.

Prostaglandins: (prah-sta-GLAND-inz) Hormone-like substances made from essential fatty acids.

Pycnogenol ®: (pick-NAH-jen-all) An OPC supplement derived from pine bark.


Resveratrol: (rez-VAIR-uh-trawl) A natural antioxidant compound found in the fruits and seeds of some plants, especially grapes and grape-derived products like red wine.


Serotonin: (sara-TONE-in) A neurotransmitter involved in mood and emotions.

Soluble fiber: (SOLL-yoo-ball) Dietary fiber that dissolves in water to form a gel.


Thioredoxin - A class of small redox proteins known to be present in all organisms. It plays a role in many important biological processes, including redox signaling. In humans, it is encoded by the TXN gene.Loss-of-function mutation of either of the two human thioredoxin genes is lethal at the four-cell stage of the developing embryo. Although not entirely understood, thioredoxin plays a central role in humans and is increasingly linked to medicine through their response to reactive oxygen species (ROS). In plants, thioredoxins regulate a spectrum of critical functions, ranging from photosynthesis to growth, flowering and the development and germination of seeds. It has also recently been found to play a role in cell-to-cell communication.

: (toe-COUGH-er-all) Another name for vitamin E

Tocotrienols: (toe-co-TREE-nalls) Antioxidant compounds closely related to vitamin E, often found in natural-source vitamin E supplements with mixed tocopherols

Triglycerides: (try-GLISS-er-ridez) Fat storage compounds that comprise the major lipid portion of the diet.