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Polyphenolic phytochemicals – just antioxidants or much more?


Polyphenolic phytochemicals are ubiquitous in plants, in which they function in various protective roles. A ‘recommended’ human diet contains significant quantities of polyphenolics, as they have long been assumed to be ‘antioxidants’ that scavenge excessive, damaging, free radicals arising from normal metabolic processes. There is recent evidence that polyphenolics also have ‘indirect’ antioxidant effects through induction of endogenous protective enzymes. There is also increasing evidence for many potential benefits through polyphenolic-mediated regulation of cellular processes such as inflammation. Inductive or signalling effects may occur at concentrations much lower than required for effective radical scavenging. Over the last 2 – 3 years, there have been many exciting new developments in the elucidation of the in vivo mechanisms of the health benefits of polyphenolics. We summarise the current knowledge of the intake, bio-availability and metabolism of polyphenolics, their antioxidant effects, regulatory effects on signalling pathways, neuro-protective effects and regulatory effects on energy metabolism and gut health.

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Correspondence to D. E. Stevenson.

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Received 14 May 2007; received after revision 27 June 2007; accepted 24 July 2007

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Stevenson, D.E., Hurst, R.D. Polyphenolic phytochemicals – just antioxidants or much more?. Cell. Mol. Life Sci. 64, 2900–2916 (2007).

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  • Polyphenolic
  • flavonoid
  • phenolic acid
  • antioxidant
  • prooxidant
  • cancer
  • cardiovascular disease
  • inflammation
  • gene transcription
  • enzyme induction