Volume 68, Issues 22–24, November–December 2007, Pages 2986–3008
Highlights in the Evolution of Phytochemistry: 50 Years of the Phytochemical Society of Europe
Epidemiological studies show a link between the consumption of plant-derived foods and a range of health benefits. These benefits have been associated, at least partially, to some of the phytochemical constituents, and, in particular, to polyphenols. In the last few years, nutraceuticals have appeared in the market. These are pharmaceutical forms (pills, powders, capsules, vials, etc.) containing food bioactive compounds as active principles. The bioactive phytochemicals have become a very significant source for nutraceutical ingredients. Scientific research supports the biological activity of many of these food phytochemicals, but the health claims attributed to the final marketed nutraceutical products have often little or doubtful scientific foundation. This is due to the fact that a lot of the scientific evidence is derived from animal testing and in vitro assays, whereas human clinical trials are scarce and inconclusive. Some key issues such as bioavailability, metabolism, dose/response and toxicity of these food bioactive compounds or the nutraceuticals themselves have not been well established yet. Amongst the phytochemicals, several groups of polyphenols (anthocyanins, proanthocyanidins, flavanones, isoflavones, resveratrol and ellagic acid) are currently used in the nutraceutical industry. In this report, we have reviewed the most recent scientific knowledge on the bioavailability and biological activity of these polyphenols (‘fact’), as well as the health claims (which are not always supported by scientific studies) ascribed to the polyphenols-containing nutraceuticals (‘fiction’). The in vitro antioxidant capacity, often used as a claim, can be irrelevant in terms of in vivo antioxidant effects. Bioavailability, metabolism, and tissue distribution of these polyphenols in humans are key factors that need to be clearly established in association to the biological effects of these polyphenols-containing nutraceuticals. The future trends of phytochemistry research regarding nutraceuticals are discussed.