Other Phytochemicals of Interest

A wide range of other phytochemicals may have important beneficial effects on human health if consumed in sufficient amount to be efficacious. In many cases, their full spectrum of molecular actions remains to be elucidated. Nevertheless, the following phytochemicals and their main botanical sources are deemed worthy of mention.

The phytochemicals dihydrophthalic acid, ligusti-lide, butylidene, phthalide, and n-valerophenone-O-carboxylic acid have been isolated from Angelica root (Angelica sinensis). They are likely to contribute to the observed circulatory modulating effects of Angelica root, including increasing coronary flow, modulation of myocardial muscular contraction, and antithrombotic effects.

Phytochemicals extracted from licorice (Glycyr-rhiza glabra L.) include glycyrrhetic acid, glycyr-rhizic acid (the sweet principle of licorice), and an active saponin glycyrrhizin (a 3-O-diglucuronide of glycyrrhetic acid). In rats, dietary supplementation with 3% licorice elevated liver glutathione transfer-ase activity, suggesting a potential detoxification and anticancer effect of these phytochemicals because glutathione transferase catalyses the formation of glutathione conjugates of toxic substances for elimination from the body. Antibacterial, antiviral, antioxidant, and antiinflammatory effects have also been reported for these compounds. Indeed, glycyrrhizin has been reported to inhibit HIV replication in cultures of peripheral blood mononuclear cells taken from HIV-seropositive patients.

Phytochemicals found in ginkgo (G. biloba) leaves, including ginkgolic acid, hydroginkgolic acid, gink-gol, bilobol, ginon, ginkgotoxin, ginkgolides (A-C), and a number of flavonoids common to other plants, such as kaempferol, quercetin, and rutin, are currently attracting attention for their possible effects on circulation, particularly cerebral circulation, and this may improve brain function and cognition. Indeed, ginkgo, ginseng, and a combination of the two extracts have been found to improve different aspects of cognition in healthy young volunteers. A number of studies have reported that extracts of ginkgo leaves enhanced brain circulation, increased the tolerance of the brain to hypoxia, and improved cerebral hemodynamics. It has been suggested that these effects are mediated via calcium ion flux over smooth cell membranes and via stimulation of catecholamine release. In addition, protection against free radical-mediated retinal injury has been reported; thus, other antioxidant-mediated protective effects on human health are also possible. Damage to mitochondrial DNA could play a role in neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer's disease and Parkinson's disease. There is limited evidence for significant improvements in CHD patients following treatment with a daily dose equivalent to 12 mg total ginkgetin. Ginkgolide B-activated inhibition of glucocorticoid production has been reported and is likely to result from specific transcriptional suppression of the adrenal peripheral-type benzodiazepine receptor gene in rats. This suggests that ginkgolide B may be useful pharmacologically to control excess glucocorticoid formation.

See also: Cancer: Epidemiology and Associations Between Diet and Cancer. Cereal Grains. Coronary Heart Disease: Prevention. Fruits and Vegetables. Phytochemicals: Epidemiological Factors. Tea.

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