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The role of phytochemicals as micronutrients in health and disease

Howes, Melanie-Jayne R.; Simmonds, Monique S.J.

Current Opinion in Clinical Nutrition and Metabolic Care: November 2014 - Volume 17 - Issue 6 - p 558–566
doi: 10.1097/MCO.0000000000000115
MICRONUTRIENTS: Edited by Henry C. Lukaski and Gil Hardy

Purpose of review Intake of dietary phytochemicals has frequently been associated with health benefits. Noninfectious diseases including cardiovascular disease (CVD), cancer and diabetes are major causes of death, whereas dementia cases are also increasing to ‘epidemic’ proportion. This review will focus on recent progress on mechanisms underlying the potential role of dietary phytochemicals in CVD, diabetes, cancer and dementia, with consideration of the latest clinical data.

Recent findings The association of tea (Camellia sinensis), particularly catechins, with reported mechanistic effects for CVD, diabetes, cancer and cognition contributes to our understanding of the suggested benefits of tea consumption on health from limited and inconclusive clinical trial and epidemiological data. Resveratrol, which occurs in grapes (Vitis vinifera) and wine, and curcumin, a component of turmeric (Curcuma longa), are also emerging as potentially relevant to health, particularly for CVD and dementia, with some promising data also concluded for curcumin in cancer. Other phytochemicals mechanistically relevant for health include anthocyanins, isoflavones and glucosinolates, which are also discussed.

Summary Evidence for the role of phytochemicals in health and disease is growing, but associations between phytochemicals and disease need to be more firmly understood and established from more robust clinical data using preparations that have been phytochemically characterized.

Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, Richmond, Surrey, UK

Correspondence to Professor Monique S.J. Simmonds, Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, Richmond, Surrey TW9 3AB, UK. Tel: +4402083325328; e-mail:

© 2014 Wolters Kluwer Health | Lippincott Williams & Wilkins