Phytochemicals are plant-derived chemical compounds under scientific research for their potential health-promoting properties, but with unproved benefits. "Phytonutrients" refers to plant-derived essential nutrients scientifically confirmed as important to human health.

Phytochemicals as therapeutics

There is evidence from laboratory studies that phytochemicals in fruits and vegetables may reduce the risk of cancer, possibly due to dietary fibers, polyphenol antioxidants and anti-inflammatory effects. Specific phytochemicals, such as fermentable dietary fibers, meet significant scientific agreement to be allowed limited health claims by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA). [US FDA, Health Claims that Meet Significant Scientific Agreement [] ]

Phytochemicals have been used as drugs for millennia. For example, Hippocrates may have prescribed willow tree leaves to abate fever. Salicin, having anti-inflammatory and pain-relieving properties, was originally extracted from the white willow tree and later synthetically produced to become the staple over-the-counter drug called Aspirin.

An important cancer drug, Taxol (paclitaxel), is a phytochemical initially extracted and purified from the Pacific yew tree.

Among edible plants with health promoting phytochemicals, diindolylmethane, from Brassica vegetables (broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, kale, Brussels sprouts) may be useful for recurring respiratory papillomatosis tumors (caused by the human papilloma virus)Fact|date=June 2008, is in Phase III clinical trials for cervical dysplasia (a precancerous condition caused by the human papilloma virus)Fact|date=June 2008 and is in clinical trials sponsored by the National Cancer Institute of the United States for a variety of cancers (breast, prostate, lung, colon, and cervical).Fact|date=August 2008 The compound is being studied for anti-viral, anti-bacterial and anti-cancer properties through a variety of pathwaysFact|date=June 2008 and has been shown to synergize with Taxol in its anti-cancer properties, making it a possible anti-cancer phytochemical as taxol resistance is a major problem for cancer patients.Fact|date=June 2008

Some phytochemicals with physiological properties may be elements rather than complex organic molecules. Abundant in many fruits and vegetables, selenium, for example, is involved major metabolic pathways, including thyroid hormone metabolism and immune function. [ [ Brown KM, Arthur JR. Selenium, selenoproteins and human health: a review. Public Health Nutr. 2001 Apr;4(2B):593-9.] ] Particularly, it is an essential nutrient and cofactor for the enzymatic synthesis of glutathione, an endogenous antioxidant. [ [ Papp LV, Lu J, Holmgren A, Khanna KK. From selenium to selenoproteins: synthesis, identity, and their role in human health. Antioxid Redox Signal. 2007 Jul;9(7):775-806.] ]

Clinical trials and health claim status

There are currently many phytochemicals possibly having medicinal properties in clinical trials for a variety of diseases. Lycopene, for example, from tomatoes has been tested in clinical trials for cardiovascular diseases and prostate cancer. These studies, however, did not attain sufficient scientific agreement to conclude an effect on any disease. [ [ US FDA, Qualified Health Claims Subject to Enforcement Discretion, Docket No. 2004Q-0201] ] The FDA position reads:

"Very limited and preliminary scientific research suggests that eating one-half to one cup of tomatoes and/or tomato sauce a week may reduce the risk of prostate cancer. The FDA concludes that there is little scientific evidence supporting this claim."

Likewise, although lutein and zeaxanthin may affect visual performance and inhibit macular degeneration and cataracts, there was insufficient scientific evidence from clinical trials for such a specific effect or health claim. [US FDA, Qualified Health Claims: Letter of Denial - Xangold® Lutein Esters, Lutein, or Zeaxanthin and Reduced Risk of Age-related Macular Degeneration or Cataract Formation (Docket No. 2004Q-0180) [] ]

Many phytochemicals have anti-inflammatory properties in vitro, including turmeric and chia.Fact|date=August 2008 Inflammation is a factor in many diseases of aging including Alzheimer's and arthritis. Turmeric is also reported to be active against skin cancer (melanoma).Fact|date=June 2008

Clinical investigations continue to assess phytochemicals with medicinal properties.Fact|date=August 2008

Food processing and phytochemicals

Phytochemicals in freshly harvested plant foods may be destroyed or removed by modern processing techniques, possibly including cooking. [ [] Cooking and nutrient loss, World's Healthiest Foods] For this reason, industrially processed foods likely contain fewer phytochemicals and may thus be less beneficial than unprocessed foods. Absence or deficiency of phytochemicals in processed foods may contribute to increased risk of preventable diseases. [ [ Liu RH. Potential synergy of phytochemicals in cancer prevention: mechanism of action. J Nutr. 2004 Dec;134(12 Suppl):3479S-3485S.] ] [ [ Rao AV, Rao LG. Carotenoids and human health. Pharmacol Res. 2007 Mar;55(3):207-16.] ]

Interestingly, a converse example may exist in which lycopene, a phytochemical present in tomatoes, is either unchanged in content [ [ Agarwal A, Shen H, Agarwal S, Rao AV. Lycopene content of tomato products: its stability, bioavailability and in vivo antioxidant properties. J Med Food. 2001 Spring;4(1):9-15.] ] or made more concentrated [ [ Dewanto V, Wu X, Adom KK, Liu RH. Thermal processing enhances the nutritional value of tomatoes by increasing total antioxidant activity. J Agric Food Chem. 2002 May 8;50(10):3010-4.] ] by processing to juice or paste, maintaining good levels for bioavailability.

List of foods high in phytonutrients

Foods high in phytonutrients, or superfoods [Pratt S, Matthews K. "SuperFoods Rx" (2004) HarperCollins Books, New York ISBN 0060535679 [] ] , are:

*soyprotease inhibitors, beta sitosterol, saponins, phytic acid, isoflavones
*tomatolycopene, beta carotene, vitamin C
*broccolivitamin C, 3,3'-Diindolylmethane, sulphoraphane, lignans, selenium
*garlicthiosulphonates, limonene, quercitin
*flax seeds and oil seeds – lignans
*citrus fruits – monoterpenes, coumarin, cryptoxanthin, vitamin C, ferulic acid, oxalic acid
*blueberriestannic acid, lignans, anthocyanins
*sweet potatoes – beta carotene
*chilli peppers – capsaicin
*legumes: beans, peas, lentils – omega fatty acids, saponins, catechins, quercetin, lutein, lignans

Other foods rich in phytonutrients or superfoods

"Some animal derived foods are also considered superfoods." Beginning in 2005, there has been a rapidly growing recognition of several common and exotic fruits recognized for their nutrient richness and antioxidant qualities, with over 900 new product introductions worldwide [cite news
last = Starling
first = Shane
title = Superfruits — superheroes of functionality
publisher = Functional Foods & Nutraceuticals
date = 2006-04
url =
accessdate = 2007-07-08
] . More than a dozen industry publications on functional foods and beverages have referred to various exotic or antioxidant species as superfruits, some of which are included in the list below.
*Apples – quercetin, catechins, tartaric acid
*Açaí berriesdietary fiber, anthocyanins, omega-3, omega-6, omega-9, protein, beta-sitosterol, polyphenols. Açaí is the highest scoring plant food (spices excepted) for antioxidant ORAC value [Schauss AG, Wu X, Prior RL, Ou B, Huang D, Owens J, Agarwal A, Jensen GS, Hart AN, Shanbrom E. Antioxidant capacity and other bioactivities of the freeze-dried Amazonian palm berry, Euterpe oleraceae mart. (acai). J Agric Food Chem. 2006 Nov 1;54(22):8604-10. [ Abstract.] ]

*Dried apricots
*Artichokesilymarin, caffeic acid, ferulic acid
*Brassicates: kale, cabbage, brussels sprouts, cauliflowerlutein
*Cocoaflavonoids, epicatechin
*Purple cornanthocyanins
*Cranberriesellagic acid, anthocyanins
*Gacbeta-carotene, lycopene
*Goji (wolfberry) - ellagic acid, β-carotene, β-cryptoxanthin, zeaxanthin, lutein, lycopene, riboflavin, vitamin C, copper, selenium, zinc, protein [Gross PM. Goji: what it is... and isn't. "Natural Products Information Center", September 2007 [] ]
*Pink grapefruit – lycopene
*Red grapes and winequercitin, resveratrol, catechins, ellagic acid
*Green teaquercetin, catechins, oxalic acid
*Mangos – cryptoxanthin
*Mangosteen - xanthones
*Nuts and seeds – resveratrol, phytic acid, phytosterols, protease inhibitors
*Porridge oats soluble fibre magnesium, zinc
*Okra -- beta carotene, lutein, zeaxanthin
*Olive oilmonounsaturated fat, hydroxytyrosol, oleuropein, oleocanthal
*Onions – quercetin, thiosulphonates
*Bell peppers – beta-carotene, vitamin C
*Pomegranate - vitamin C, tannins, especially punicalagins
*Pumpkinlignans, carotene
*Quinoa dietary fiber, protein without gluten with balanced essential amino acids
*Sea buckthorn - vitamin C, tocopherols, carotenoids, polyphenols, polyunsaturated fatty acids [Gross PM. Sea buckthorn cornucopia. "Natural Products Information Center", December 2007 [] ]
*Sesame - lignans
*Shiitake mushrooms
*Spinachoxalic acid, lutein, zeaxanthin
*Watermelonlycopene zeaxanthin, sulphoraphane, indole-3-carbinol
*Spirulina - beta-carotene

ee also

* Phytochemistry
* List of phytochemicals in food
* List of antioxidants in food
* Secondary metabolites



* Page 213 of, "Nutrition for Life" by Hark & Deen published 2006 by Dorling Kindersley
* Activation and potentiation of interferon-gamma signaling by 3,3'-diindolylmethane in MCF-7 breast cancer cells. Riby JE, Xue L, Chatterji U, Bjeldanes EL, Firestone GL, Bjeldanes LF. Department of Nutritional Sciences and Toxicology, University of California, Berkeley, 94720-3104, USA. Molecular Pharmacology. 2006 Feb;69(2):430-9.
* DIM stimulates IFNgamma gene expression in human breast cancer cells via the specific activation of JNK and p38 pathways. Xue L, Firestone GL, Bjeldanes LF. Department of Nutritional Sciences and Toxicology, University of California, 119 Morgan Hall, Berkeley, CA 94720-3104, USA. Oncogene. 2005 Mar 31;24(14):2343-53.
* 3,3′-Diindolylmethane and Paclitaxel Act Synergistically to Promote Apoptosis in HER2/Neu Human Breast Cancer Cells. Journal of Surgical Research, 2006 May 15;132(2):208-13. K. McGuire, N. Ngoubilly, M. Neavyn, S. Lanza-Jacoby Department of Surgery, Jefferson Medical College, Thomas Jefferson University, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 19107.
* Pilot study: effect of 3,3'-diindolylmethane supplements on urinary hormone metabolites in postmenopausal women with a history of early-stage breast cancer. Journal of Nutrition and Cancer. 2004;50(2):161-7. Dalessandri KM, Firestone GL, Fitch MD, Bradlow HL, Bjeldanes LF Department of Molecular and Cell Biology, University of California, Berkeley, 94720-3200, USA.
* Estrogen metabolism and risk of breast cancer: a prospective study of the 2:16alpha-hydroxyestrone ratio in premenopausal and postmenopausal women. Epidemiology. 2000 Nov;11(6):635-40. Muti P, Bradlow HL, Micheli A, Krogh V, Freudenheim JL, Schunemann HJ, Stanulla M, Yang J, Sepkovic DW, Trevisan M, Berrino F. Department of Social and Preventive Medicine, University at Buffalo, State University of New York at Buffalo, Buffalo, NY, USA, Epidemiology Division of the National Cancer Institute (Istituto Nazionale Tumori), Milan, Italy, Department of Pediatric Hematology and Oncology, Medical School of Hannover, Hannover, Germany.
* Lycopene. Advances in Food and Nutrition Research 2006;51:99-164. Rao AV, Ray MR, Rao LG, Department of Nutritional Sciences, Faculty of Medicine, University of Toronto, Toronto, Ontario, Canada.
* Tomato lycopene and its role in human health and chronic diseases. CMAJ 2000 Sep 19;163(6):739-44 Agarwal S., Rao AV., Department of Nutritional Sciences, Faculty of Medicine, University of Toronto.
* Combinations of Tomato and Broccoli Enhance Antitumor Activity in Dunning R3327-H Prostate Adenocarcinomas. Canene-Adams K, Lindshield B, Wang S, Jeffery E, Clinton S, Erdman J., Cancer Res 2007; 67: (2). January 15, 2007
* Selenium: from cancer prevention to DNA damage. Journal of Toxicology, 2006 October 3;227(1-2):1-14. Letavayova L., Vichova V., Brozmanova J. Laboratory of Molecular Genetic, Cancer Research Institute, Slovak Academy of Sciences, 833 91 Bratislava, Slovak Republic.
* Low serum selenium and total carotenoids predict mortality among older women living in the community. Journal of Nutrition. 2006 Jan;136(1):172-6. Ray AL, Semba RD, Walston J., Ferrucci L, Cappola AR, Ricks MO, Xue QL, Fried LP. The Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions, Baltimore, MD, USA.
* Suppression of human immunodeficiency virus type 1 viral load with selenium supplementation: a randomized controlled trial. Archives of Internal Medicine. 2007 Jan 22;167(2):148-54. Hurwitz BE, Klaus JR, Lllabre MM, Gonzalez A, Lawrence PJ, Maher KJ, Greenson JM, Baum MK, Shor-Posner G, Skyler JS, Schneiderman N.
* Study of prediagnostic selenium level in toenails and the risk of advanced prostate cancer. Yoshizawa K, Willett WC, Morris SJ, et al. J Natl Cancer Inst. 1998;90(16):1219-1224.
* Supplementation with the carotenoids lutein or zeaxanthin improves human visual performance. Ophthalmic & Physiological Optics. Kvansakul J, Rodriguez-Carmona M., Edgar DF, Barker FM, Kapcke W., Schalch W., Barbur JL. Applied Vision Research Centre, Department of Optometry and Visual Science, City University, London, UK.
* Dietary carotenoids, vitamins A, C, and E, and advanced age-related macular degeneration. Eye Disease Case-Control Study Group. Journal of the American Medical Association.1994 Nov 9;272(18):1413-20. Seddon JM, Ajani UA, Sperduto RD, Hiller R, Blair N, Burton TC, Farber MD, Gragoudas ES, Haller J., Miller DT. Epidemiology Unit, Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary, Boston 02114.

External links

* [ Phytochemical Database] - United States Department of Agriculture
* [ Phytochemicals] - Overview of phytochemicals with structures and properties.
* [ Phytochemicals as Nutraceuticals]
* [ Phytochemicals at LPI] - Linus Pauling Institute at Oregon State University

Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.

Look at other dictionaries:

  • Phytochemical — Phy to*chem ic*al, a. Relating to phytochemistry. R. Hunt. [1913 Webster] …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • Phytochemical — The active health protecting compounds that are found as components of plants. Currently, the terms phytochemical and phytonutrient are being used interchangeably to describe those plant compounds which are thought to have health protecting… …   Medical dictionary

  • phytochemical — I. adjective Date: circa 1858 of, relating to, or being phytochemistry • phytochemically adverb II. noun Date: 1985 a chemical compound (as beta carotene) occurring naturally in plants …   New Collegiate Dictionary

  • phytochemical — phy·to·chem·i·cal (fī tō kĕmʹĭ kəl) adj. 1. Of or relating to phytochemistry. 2. Of or relating to phytochemicals. n. A nonnutritive bioactive plant substance, such as a flavonoid or carotenoid, considered to have a beneficial effect on human… …   Universalium

  • phytochemical — 1. noun a) Any chemical substance characteristic of plants. b) Any chemical or nutrient derived from a plant source; a phytonutrient. 2. adjective Of or pertaining to phytochemistry …   Wiktionary

  • phytochemical — noun any of various biologically active compounds found in plants. adjective relating to phytochemistry or phytochemicals …   English new terms dictionary

  • phytochemical — phy·to·chemical …   English syllables

  • phytochemical — phy•to•chem•i•cal adj. [[t]ˌfaɪ təˈkɛm ɪ kəl[/t]] n. [[t]ˈfaɪ təˌkɛm [/t]] adj. 1) chem. of or pertaining to phytochemistry or phytochemicals 2) chem. a chemical compound found in plants, believed to have health benefits in humans • Etymology:… …   From formal English to slang

  • phytochemical — /ˈfaɪtoʊkɛmɪkəl/ (say fuytohkemikuhl) noun a non nutritive chemical compound derived from a plant or fruit, which may have medicinal value, as salicin from the willow tree …   Australian English dictionary

  • phytochemical — Molecules characteristically found in plants …   Glossary of Biotechnology

Share the article and excerpts

Direct link
Do a right-click on the link above
and select “Copy Link”

We are using cookies for the best presentation of our site. Continuing to use this site, you agree with this.