Phytochemicals

By: Chloe McClanahan, v7 n6, 2012, 4–22

BioFiles Volume 7, Number 6 – Dietary Bioactives

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Throughout history, human populations have learned either by serendipity or by observation the properties of edible materials present in their environment. Even the most primitive societies often had a fairly sophisticated knowledge of the medicinal properties of local plants. This knowledge, passed down orally for centuries became documented and arranged in Indian Ayurvedic medicine or traditional Chinese medicinal practices. More recently, research interest in complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) has surged as global consumers have embraced traditional herbal preparations, dietary supplements, and functional foods for their purported disease prevention and therapeutic properties.

Although medicinal herbal therapy has been practiced for thousands of years, the identification, efficacy, and synergistic function of phytochemicals present in plants and plant-derived foods is ongoing. The phytochemicals under investigation include secondary metabolites, many which are synthesized for plant defense and adaption to environmental stress. Peer-reviewed articles have established the role of phytochemicals in regulating and modulating human health and disease prevention, but how best to harness this information into the development of safe and effective nutraceuticals or functional foods remains to be determined.

Researchers are doing more than identifying unique phytochemicals. They are documenting phytochemical attributes, including antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, antiproliferative, neuroprotective, and antiangiogenic properties. However, they are also elucidating the connections between phytochemicals and their molecular targets. Revealing these relationships and determining the role of the phytochemical interaction in cellular activities may lead to new possibilities for nutraceutical and functional food development. Primarily, those foods involved in reducing the onset of lifestyle and aging-related diseases: cancer, cardiovascular, diabetes, and neurodegenerative disease.

For example, hundreds of peer-reviewed articles have reported evidence on the antiaging properties of resveratrol. This polyphenol stilbene, found in red wine, was initially thought to directly activate sirtuin 1 (Sirt1). This is significant because the overexpression of Sirt1 protected mice from aging-related phenotypes similar to diabetes. It is now understood that resveratrol indirectly activates Sirt1 by inhibiting cAMP-degrading phosphodiesterases, leading to the activation of Epac1 (exchange protein directly activated by cAMP) and the CamKKß-AMPK pathway. Epac1 activation results in increased levels of NAD+ and Sirt1 activity. This is important because Sirt1 targeting studies have diverged from resveratrol to other phosphodiesterase inhibitors and their role in aging-related diseases.

The Sigma® Life Science nutrition research product portfolio features 500 high-purity phytochemicals isolated from various botanical sources. For those compounds that are not available from a plant origin, synthetic alternatives are available. Sigma’s catalog of phytochemicals has been classified into distinct chemical classifications for easier selection of relevant compounds.

 

References

  1. Murakami, A. and Ohnishi, K. Target molecules of food phytochemicals: Food science bound for the next dimension. Food Funct., (2012).
  2. Park, S.J. et al. Resveratrol ameliorates aging-related metabolic phenotypes by inhibiting cAMP phosphodiesterases. Cell. 148(3), 421-433 (2012).
  3. Pengelly, A. The constituents of medicinal plants. CABI. Publishing (2nd ed.), Oxford, UK 2004.

 

Polyphenols

Flavonoids

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Brussel sprouts, a member of the Brassicaceae family, contain the flavonoid kaempferol.

Green tea fields in Japan. Green tea contains the polyphenol tannin antioxidant EGCG.

 

Isoflavones

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Immature soy bean in the pod, commonly referred to as Edamame. Edamame is a source of the isoflavones, genistin and daidzin.

 

Anthocyanins and Anthocyanidins

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Blueberries, flowering plants of the genus Vaccinium, contain many flavonoid subclasses.

Cluster of dangling mangos. Mangos are rich in the chemopreventive agent gallic acid.

Terpenes and Terpenoids

Carotenoids

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Cherry tomatoes (Solanum lycopersicum) are rich in the potent antioxidant lycopene.

Jars of ginseng root. Ginseng is a medicinal plant that contains a class of triterpene saponins termed ginsenosides.

 

Other Terpenes and Terpenoids

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Terpenoids/isoprenoids are ubiquitous in plants and occur in most dietary plants, including ginger (Zingiber officinale).

Glycosides, Including Glucosinolates

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Hypericin and hyperforin are glycoside constituents within St. John’s Wort, a medicinal plant for depression treatment

Piperine is the alkaloid constituent in black pepper (Piper nigrum) responsible for its pungent odor.

Oils and Resin-derived Compounds

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Capsaicin is a secondary metabolite that gives chili peppers their heat.

Analytical Standards

For quality control of herbal medicinal products, reliable reference standards are needed. Sigma® Life Science offers an extensive range of analytical standards as well as several primary standards (analyzed by quantitative NMR). Visit sigma-aldrich.com/medicinalplants and find an up-to-date list of this growing product range. Browse either alphabetically, by substance class, or by plant genus.

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