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Ann Bot. 2005 Jun;95(7):1075-96. Epub 2005 Mar 22.

Proposed criteria for assessing the efficacy of cancer reduction by plant foods enriched in carotenoids, glucosinolates, polyphenols and selenocompounds.

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United States Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service, Grand Forks Human Nutrition Research Center, Grand Forks, ND 58202-9034, USA.



The cancer-protective properties of vegetable consumption are most likely mediated through 'bioactive compounds' that induce a variety of physiologic functions including acting as direct or indirect antioxidants, regulating enzymes and controlling apoptosis and the cell cycle. The 'functional food' industry has produced and marketed foods enriched with bioactive compounds, but there are no universally accepted criteria for judging efficacy of the compounds or enriched foods.


Carotenoids, glucosinolates, polyphenols and selenocompounds are families of bioactive compounds common to vegetables. Although numerous studies have investigated the agricultural and human health implications of enriching foods with one or more of these compounds, inadequate chemical identification of compounds, lack of relevant endpoints and inconsistencies in mechanistic hypotheses and experimental methodologies leave many critical gaps in our understanding of the benefits of such compounds. This review proposes a decision-making process for determining whether there is reasonable evidence of efficacy for the both the compound and the enriched food. These criteria have been used to judge the evidence of efficacy for cancer prevention by carotenoids, polyphenols, glucosinolates and selenocompounds.


The evidence of efficacy is weak for carotenoids and polyphenols; the evidence is stronger for glucosinolates and lycopene, but production of enriched foods still is premature. Additionally there is unacceptable variability in the amount and chemical form of these compounds in plants. The evidence of efficacy for selenocompounds is strong, but the clinical study that is potentially the most convincing is still in progress; also the variability in amount and chemical form of Se in plants is a problem. These gaps in understanding bioactive compounds and their health benefits should not serve to reduce research interest but should, instead, encourage plant and nutritional scientists to work together to develop strategies for improvement of health through food.

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