How Xenohormetic Compounds Confer Health Benefits
Compounds that are capable of inducing damage to cells, so leading the cells to activate defence pathways to protect the cell, have been referred to as ‘hormetins’ (Ali and Rattan 2006). Then there is the situation whereby natural environmental stresses stimulate plants to produce specific endogenous chemicals that help protect the plant against the change in conditions that could otherwise be detrimental. These are regarded as ‘hormetic compounds’. Animals that live in the same locality are also under selective pressure to develop protective mechanisms to assist in their survival in the face of the same environmental change. The xenohormesis hypothesis (Lamming et al. 2004) proposes that organisms have evolved to respond to stress signalling molecules (‘hormetic’ compounds) produced by dietary plant species where they live, so enabling them to be prepared to resist potentially detrimental effects. Under stressful conditions such as cold or drought, when plants ramp up their production of these specialized chemical compounds, by eating the plants, the benefit is transferred to animals. The plant chemicals, when acting on animals in this way, can be referred to as xenohormetic compounds, and are the focus of this chapter. It is indeed quite intriguing that animals have evolved mechanisms to utilize these same plant compounds consumed in their diet. Even more fascinating is that this leads to the activation of similar protective mechanisms in the cells of the animals as are activated in the cells of the plants.
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