nutmeg; paprika; turmeric

One of the first classes of toxic compounds in plants to be identified were the pyrrolizidine alkaloids from the genus Senecio. Subsequently, more than 200 related compounds have been isolated from numerous families and species, many of which are potent liver toxins and liver carcinogens. Other classes of alkaloids found in the plant kingdom include derivatives of the nicotine alkaloids, such as N-nitrosonornicotine, which are present in tobacco leaves and are known to be carcinogenic to animals. Tobacco leaves also contain a range of compounds that have been shown to potentiate the carcinogenic effect of the alkaloids present.

Many other classes of carcinogenic plant products have been identified. These include glycosides of azoxy alcohols such as cycasin from betel nuts, a colon carcinogen; isoprene glycosides such as ptaqui-loside found in bracken, a liver carcinogen; and phenolic alkylbenzenes such as safrole present in many herbs and vegetables, which are also principally liver carcinogens. Other phenolic compounds including flavanoids such as quercetin, rutin and kaemferol, and tannins such as trapain and brevifolin are potent mutagens but evidence for their carcinogenicity is lacking. In fact many of these compounds have been shown to exert anticarcinogenic effects.

Organic Chemical Carcinogens in other Edible Plants and in Microorganisms

Chemical carcinogens are also found in a wide range of lower plants, such as fungi, and in microorganisms. Simple and complex hydrazines are found in many species of mushroom and have been shown to produce tumors in many tissues of experimental animals. Mycotoxins such as aflatoxin B1 and the related polynuclear compound produced by Asper-gillus species are some of the most potent carcinogens known, being active at dose levels in the nanogram per kilogram range. Human exposure to such compounds occurs when cereal crops and nuts are stored in humid conditions, as they are in many parts of equatorial Africa and China. Aflatoxin B1 is one of the few established human carcinogens found in the plant kingdom. Other carcinogenic compounds produced as natural products include the antibiotics adriamycin and daunomycin and the antineoplastic agent streptozotocin isolated from microorganisms of the genus Streptomyces.

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