Iridoids are basically a group of secondary or lesser important metabolites that are present in an assortment of plants as well as in a number of animals. Iridoids are monoterpenes (a unit of isoprene forming a terpene) that are synthesized biologically from isoprene and often they act in the form of agents in alkaloid biosynthesis. From the chemical point of view, iridoids generally comprise a cyclopentane ring combined with an oxygen heterocycle having six units.
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Iridomyrmecin perfectly demonstrates the chemical makeup of iridoids. Iridomyrmecin is actually a protective chemical that is made by ants belonging to the Iridomyrmex genus and this gives iridoids their name. A split in a link in the cyclopentane ring results in the production of a sub-class called seco-iridoids, for instance, armarogentin. Typically, iridoids are present in plants in the form of glycosides, very frequently linked to glucose.
It has been found that the secondary metabolite iridoids are present in several remedial plants and they are likely to be accountable for a number of pharmaceutical activities of these plants. When iridoids are isolated and decontaminated, they demonstrate an assortment of bioactivities, counting analgesic, cardiovascular, anti-mutagenic, anti-inflammatory, antiviral, anti-tumor, anti-hepatotoxic, hypoglycemic, choleretic, and purgative, immunomodulator as well as anti-spasmodic activities.
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The plants mainly produce iridoids to defend them against invasions by herbivorous animals or to protect them against infections by pathogenic microbes. Humans as well as most other mammals find the flavor of iridoids to be distinctly bitter.
Iridoids are found in the plants belonging to the heather family, including blueberry, cranberry, lingonberry and huckleberry. All these plants enclose a blend of simple as well as complex iridoids. In fact, the juice extracted from cranberry has been traditionally used in folk medicine to treat infections of the urinary tract. Cranberry juice as well as the jam prepared with it is consumed to improve night vision.
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In addition to the plants mentioned above, iridoids are also present in the herb eyebright, which is reputed for possessing wonderful anti-inflammatory attributes. For several centuries, herbalists have been employing poultices prepared with flowers of eyebright for treating inflamed (swelling and redness) eyes. Even to this day, eyebright is used in the form of a natural substitute to antibiotics for treating conjunctivitis. In addition, the herb valerian, which possesses sedative properties and is very well liked by people suffering from problems in falling asleep, also has a rich content of iridoids.
Iridoids are divided into two classes - simple and complex, depending on their respective chemical composition. The arrangement of iridoid molecules is actually responsible for their bioactive attributes.
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Simple iridoids are found in a number of plants, including actinidia (also called the silver vine), boobialla (also called figwort), broomrape, catnip, cat thyme and Noni (botanical name Morinda citrifolia).
While the broomrape is basically a weed having attractive purple hued flowers akin to those of foxglove and is usually found growing among aubergine, potato and tomato plants in Europe, boobialla is actually a cluster of shrubs that flower perennially and is indigenous to Australia. On the other hand, the herb cat thyme is a spiky plant that grows perennially and possesses an aroma that has resemblance to the scent produced by thyme.
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Complex iridoids are also present in a number of herbs, which include:
In addition to the simple and complex iridoids, a third variety of iridoid exists. In this type of iridoid, the real molecule is fastened to a sugar form that provides them with a specific chemical arrangement and also particular attributes - different from those of the simple and complex iridoids. This variety of iridoids is known as iridoid glycosides.
This particular type of iridoid is present in a number of plants, which include catalpa vine, chasteberry, gardenia, glandiflora, Morinda citrifolia (Noni), snapdragon (also known as dragon flower), plantago and verbena.
It is worth mentioning here that the majority of plants enclose either one or two iridoids, while there are some plants that even enclose all the three types of iridoids, for instance, Morinda citrifolia (Noni). In fact, the Morinda citrifolia plant is the sole exception and its fruit, commonly called 'noni', contains as many as 12 dissimilar types of iridoids, which includes glycoside iridoid, non-glycoside iridoid, simple iridoid as well as complex iridoid.
Iridoids are known to offer a great variety of health benefits, including providing us support against a vast assortment of physical, biological as well as chemical stressors. Iridoids also have a stabilizing consequence on the human body targeting imbalances, but not having any adverse effect on the normal functioning of our bodily systems. Most importantly, iridoids perform all these tasks without causing any toxic side effects. Some of the specific health benefits offered by iridoids are listed below.