Phytochemistry Reviews

, Volume 13, Issue 4, pp 769–791 | Cite as

Compounds from Allium species with cytotoxic and antimicrobial activity

  • Virginia LanzottiEmail author
  • Felice Scala
  • Giuliano Bonanomi


Garlic (Allium sativum L.) is a bulb-shaped plant belonging to the Allium genus which also includes onions (Allium cepa L.), leek (Allium ampeloprasum L. var. porrum Gay), shallot (Allium ascalonicum L), scallion (A. fistulosum L.) and chives (Allium schoenoprasum L.). The biological activity of garlic has been known since ancient times. Babylonians, Egyptians, Phoenicians, Greeks and Romans used garlic as a remedy for intestinal disorders, respiratory infections, skin diseases, bacterial infections, worms, wounds and tumors. In particular, before the discovery of antibiotics, garlic has been used against amoebic dysentery and epidemic diseases such as typhus, cholera, diphtheria, and tuberculosis. To date, more than 3,000 publications scientifically supported the use of garlic in the ethno-medicine. But what makes garlic and Allium species effective against cancer? The effect of garlic may arise from its antibacterial properties or from its ability to block formation on cancer-causing substances, half the activation of cancer causing substances, enhance DNA repair, reduce cell proliferation or induce cell death. Epidemiological studies have found that an increase of consumptions of Allium spp. reduce the risk of prostate and gastric cancers and this has been mainly related to two main classes of compounds: the apolar sulphur compounds and the polar saponins. These latter compounds, compared to the more studied thiosulphinates, have the advantages of not being pungent and more stable during cooking. Recently, there has been increasing scientific attention given to such compounds. In this paper, the literature about the major volatile and non-volatile organic compounds of garlic and other Allium plants has been reviewed. Particular attention is given to the compounds possessing antibacterial and cytotoxic activity in garlic and in the other Allium species and their mechanism of action.


Garlic Onion Anticancer activity Antioxidant activity Antibacterial activity 


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  • Virginia Lanzotti
    • 1
    Email author
  • Felice Scala
    • 1
  • Giuliano Bonanomi
    • 1
  1. 1.Dipartimento di AgrariaUniversità di Napoli “Federico II”PorticiItaly

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