Herbal medicines are increasingly used in both Western and Chinese societies. The Chinese herb Jue-ming-zi, which is the seed of the plant Cassia tora L. (Leguminosae), has been reported to have hypotensive, antibacterial, antiviral, antifungal, antihepatotoxic activity, etc. The herb C. tora contains a variety of bioactive phenolic substances, including chrysophanol, emodin, rhein, etc., which are mainly responsible for the pharmacological action ascribed to them. In addition, many recent studies have suggested that Cassia seed has potential antioxidant and antimutagenic activity, and these biological effects of C. tora decreased with higher roasting temperature or longer roasting time. In this chapter, we review the recent studies on the antioxidant activity and antigenotoxicity of C. tora.
Much attention has been focused on the nutraceuticals and their roles in human health. Several epidemiological studies have shown an association between a diet rich in fresh fruit and vegetables and a decreased risk of cardiovascular diseases, stroke, and certain forms of cancer (1,2). The close relationship between antioxidant activity and antimutagenicity has been demonstrated (3). It is now widely accepted that the use of naturally occurring antioxidants or antimutagens in everyday life will be the most effective procedure for promoting human health. Such compounds include vitamins, trace elements, and a variety of other substances with antioxidant properties. Polyphenols, isoflavones, catechins, and several other components found in higher plants are known to protect against the deleterious effect of reactive oxygen species (4). Hertog and Hollman (5) have suggested that diets rich in phenolic compounds are associated with longer life expectancy. These compounds have also been found to have various health-related properties because of their antioxidant activities. These properties include anticancer, antiviral, and anti-inflammatory activities, effects on capillary fragility, and an ability to inhibit human platelet aggregation (6).
The Chinese herb Jue-ming-zi has been used in many traditional Chinese medical prescriptions. C. tora was first recorded in Shen-Nung-Pen-Tsao-Ching as upper category, and in the successive Pen-Tsao of descending dynasties. It is used to remove ''heat'' from the liver and improve visual acuity, to moisten the supposedly dry digestive apparatus, and to facilitate bowel movement as a laxative. Previous studies on C. tora show its therapeutic effects on hypertension (7,8), on hypercholesterolemia (9,10), as an antihepatotoxin (11), an antimicrobial (12-14), on blood platelet coagulation (15), on the eyes, and in constipation (16). This herb has been reported to contain many active substances, including chrysophenol, emodin, rhein, etc. (17). Recently many researchers have studied the antioxidant activity and antigenotoxicity of C. tora. Choi et al. (18) reported that anthraquinone aglycons and naphthopyrone glycosides from C. tora had inhibitory activity against aflatoxin B1 in the Ames test. Furthermore, anthraquinone compounds isolated from roasted C. tora have antimutagenicity (19). Wu and Yen (20) indicated that the antimutagenicity of extracts of C. tora was due to a desmutagenic action, but not a biomutagenic action. The mechanism of Cassia seed to suppress B[a]P genotoxicity in cells was to interfere with CYP-450 enzyme activation, and the key was suppressing NADPH CYP-450 reductase (21). Su (22) and Kim et al. (23) reported that methanolic extract from C. tora had a strong antioxidant activity on lipid peroxidation. Cassia extracts were also found to promote hepatic enzymes in rats with ethanol-induced hepatotoxicity, including catalase, superoxide dismutase, and glutathione peroxidase (10). Yen et al. (24) also indicated tha the antioxidant activity of methanolic extracts from C. tora L. was stronger than that of Cassia occidentals L., and they also identified an antioxidative compound as emodin from C. tora L. The methanolic extracts of C. tora, containing anthraqui-nones, were also found to be effective peroxynitrile scavengers in vitro (25,26).
The commercial products of C. tora include both unroasted and roasted samples, and the laxative effect was found to be higher in unroasted C. tora than in the roasted product. Roasted C. tora has a special flavor and color, and it is popularly used to make a health drink. Zhang et al. (27) reported that some components, for example chrysophanol, in C. tora decreased after the roasting process. Moreover, the antihepatotoxic effect of C. tora decreased with an increase roasting temperature (28). In view of this, the biological activity of C. tora might be influenced by the roasting treatment. Thus, apart from the traditional pharmacological effects, the influence of roasting temperature on the chemical constituents and bioactive effects of seed of C. tora are discussed here. Also, other and more specific biological activity will be discussed.
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