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t. sudhakar babu

Bruce Greenberg University of Waterloo Waterloo, Ontario Canada

PHYTOCHEMICALS: ANTIOXIDANTS

The protective effects of fruit and vegetable consumption on diseases such as cancer and cardiovascular disease, among many other ailments, have been established for years. In recent history, the scientific community has been aggressively pursuing the basis of fruit and vegetable consumption and disease prevention to combat the prevalence of health disorders in today's society. Research studying the relationship between consumption of fruits and vegetables and cancer—and to a lesser extent cardiovascular disease—are the most abundant, because these conditions constitute the majority of health-related deaths in the industrialized world. Comprehensive reviews on the consumption of fruits and vegetables on the occurrence of cancer have resulted in 60 to 85% of the studies showing statistically significant associations in the decrease of cancer incidence (1). Individuals who consume the highest amount of fruits and vegetables have half the cancer rates as those who consume the least amount. A similar association has been seen with cardiovascular disease. Sixty percent of the studies reviewed by Ness and Powles (2) showed a statistically significant protective effect of fruit and vegetable consumption on coronary heart disease and stroke.

The consumption of an ample supply of fruits and vegetables (five to nine servings, as recommended by the U.S. Department of Agriculture Food Guide Pyramid) provides individuals with a wide variety of phytochemicals (both essential and nonessential nutrients from plants) that have been shown to have health benefits. A group of phytochemicals that have received significant attention for their health benefits are the antioxidants. These antioxidants include the nutritionally essential vitamins C (ascorbic acid), E (a-tocopherol), and /i-carotene and also some nonessential compounds, such as the phenolics (most notably the flavonoids and isoflavones) and the carotenoids (Fig. 1). Because oxidative stress has been linked to many degenerative diseases, including cancer and cardiovascular disease, these antioxidants could potentially play a strong role in disease prevention. The fact that that only 9% of Americans consume at least five servings of fruits and vegetables per day is also substantial evidence that there is a large potential in preventing health problems through consumption of plant products (3).

Oxidative reactions that are harmful to health usually involve free radicals or reactive oxygen species that cause the oxidative modification of lipids, proteins, and nucleic acids (4). Free radicals can be produced as a by-product of normal metabolic reactions or from the decomposition of peroxides by transition metals or irradiation. In the case of lipid oxidation, the presence of free radicals that can oxidize unsaturated fatty acids will result in an autocata-lytic reaction that involves the production of numerous free radical and lipid peroxide species. Reactive oxygen species are also produced as by-products of metabolic reactions and through the conversion of atmospheric oxygen to high-energy oxygen species by photosensitizers in the presence of light.

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