Potential Mechanisms of Action

The effect of flavonoids on enzymatic, biological, and physiological processes has been extensively studied, but few studies have attempted to determine the actual compound or metabolite responsible for the observed effects. Much of the in vitro data assume that the biological activity originates from the flavonoid ingested, without taking into consideration the biotransformations that may occur following ingestion and metabolism, as it is well established that following ingestion they are transformed into a range of structurally distinct compounds.

In interpreting the mechanistic data, it is also important to remember that little attention has been paid to the physiological relevance of the concentration used in the in vitro model systems. Thus, in some instances biological effects have been shown at concentrations that are unachievable in vivo; therefore, the biological relevance of these mechanisms to humans is questionable.

Since flavonoids are complex groups of compounds with variable structures and activities, it is unlikely that they exert their biological effects by common mechanisms. However, since it is also now established that the pathophysiological processes leading to the development of cardiovascular disease and cancer are complex, this means that there are many potential sites and stages at which bioactive plant compounds present in food could act to potentially reduce the formation of cancerous cells or the atherosclerotic plaque in cardiovascular disease. Elucidating the underlying mechanisms of how flavonoids work is a key aim for nutrition research.

In vitro experimental systems suggest that flavo-noids can scavenge oxygen-derived free radicals; exert antiinflammatory, antiallergic, and antiviral effects; and have anticarcinogenic properties.

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