During the past 5 decades, it has been widely promulgated that the chemicals in plants that are good for health act as direct scavengers of free radicals. Here we review evidence that favors a different hypothesis for the health benefits of plant consumption, namely, that some phytochemicals exert disease-preventive and therapeutic actions by engaging one or more adaptive cellular response pathways in cells. The evolutionary basis for the latter mechanism is grounded in the fact that plants produce natural antifeedant/noxious chemicals that discourage insects and other organisms from eating them. However, in the amounts typically consumed by humans, the phyto-chemicals activate one or more conserved adaptive cellular stress response pathways and thereby enhance the ability of cells to resist injury and disease. Examples of such pathways include those involving the transcription factors nuclear factor erythroid 2-related factor 2, nuclear factor-kB, hypoxia-inducible factor 1a, peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor g, and forkhead box subgroup O, as well as the production and action of trophic factors and hormones. Trans-lational research to develop interventions that target these pathways may lead to new classes of therapeutic agents that act by stimulating adaptive stress response pathways to bolster endogenous defenses against tissue injury and disease. Because neurons are particularly sensitive to potentially noxious phytochemicals, we focus on the nervous system but also include findings from other cell types in which actions of phytochemicals on specific signal transduction pathways have been more thoroughly studied.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Molecular Medicine