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Blogs ::: Current Chinese Science

Bioactive Compunds in Foods: Impact on Human Health

Dr. Wuyang Huang received her Ph.D. in Biological Sciences from the University of Hong Kong. She has a post-doctorate from the University of Alberta, Canada. She is currently working as a Professor in the Department of Nutrition and Health Science at Institute of Agro-Product Processing, the Jiangsu Academy of Agricultural Sciences, China. Her research interests include the functional properties of fruits and vegetables with a focus on the development of new functional foods. She has published numerous articles in high impact journals and participated in several international conferences.

Food is essential for life and supplies the body with the nutrients and energy which needs to stay healthy. Nutrition is a consequence of food, since food, once ingested and processed by the body, is transformed and used in different biological processes.

The relationship between diet and health has been studied for years. The consumption of certain nutrients has been shown to promote health and to reduce the risk factor for certain diseases. Although foods are a source of beneficial nutrients, not all compounds in foods are healthy. Some compounds behave like toxic substances or have anti-nutrient activities. Compounds with beneficial effects on the body are classified as bioactive compounds.

Let’s wish the Journal soon become a leading journal in the field.

Bioactive Compunds in Foods: Impact on Human Health

Some health benefits of consuming fruits and vegetables may be related to the presence of a large number of compounds that belong to the group called bioactive compounds.

Most of the bioactive compounds have antioxidant, anticarcinogenic, anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial properties, also there are studies reporting some protective effects against cardiovascular diseases.

A bioactive compound is a type of chemical found in small amounts in plants and certain foods serving functions in the body that can promote health in a variety of ways. There are omega-3 fatty acids from fish or conjugated linoleic from animal origin. However, these components are typically found to a greater extent in foods of plant origin in the form of phytochemicals.

Phytochemicals are molecules naturally present in the plant kingdom. Plants produce phytochemicals as part of their metabolic activities and these perform non-essential biological actions, which are involved in the interactions between the plant and its environment. Phytochemicals protect plants from environmental stress and from natural aggressors.

There are different types of phytochemicals. Among them, terpenes, which mainly stand out in green foods, in products derived from soybeans and in cereals. In addition, phytosterols, which are found naturally in practically all vegetables, fruits, seeds, as well as leaves and stems. Several of these act in the same way as vitamin E. Another example are thiols, mostly in vegetables such as brussel sprouts, cauliflower, and spinach. And finally, polyphenols, present in fruits such as grapes, raspberries, and blueberries, in vegetables, such as beets and aubergines, or in legumes such as lentils and beans.

Polyphenols act as free radical scavengers. The different polyphenols have different specificity for the different oxidant species that are generated in the body. They act as indirect radical scavengers by acting as chelating agents for transition metal ions, that is, by binding to these ions and reducing the ability of these heavy metals to generate free radicals. Polyphenols are divided into three subgroups: flavonoids, phenolic acids and non-flavonoid polyphenols.

Bioactive Compunds in Foods: Impact on Human Health

Flavonoids are phytochemicals present in fruits such as pomegranate, blueberries, açai. etc., and vegetables. Protective effects of flavonoids have been described in various cardiovascular pathologies, diabetes mellitus, hypercholesterolemia, atherosclerosis, and cancer. Their effectiveness in the treatment of neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer's and Parkinson's, has recently been studied due to their neuroprotective potential.

Anthocyanins are a group of red, water-soluble pigments. They belong to the group of flavonoids and are glycosides of anthocyanidins, which means, they are formed by a molecule of anthocyanidin, which is an aglycone, to which a sugar is attached through a β-glycosidic bond. Anthocyanins are water-soluble pigments found in the vacuoles of plant cells, which give leaves, flowers and fruits their red, purple or blue color.

Anthocyanins are the most abundant polyphenols in blueberries, though their contribution to the total polyphenol content and the distribution of anthocyanin types varies according to many factors including the plant variety, the blueberry size and growth conditions including irrigation and sunlight. Anthocyanins commonly found in blueberries include cyanidins, delphinidins, petunidins, malvidins, and peonidins.

Bioactive Compunds in Foods: Impact on Human Health

Huang et al. have investigated from the extraction to the identification of blueberry anthocyanins, as well as the functional properties of these compounds.

The optimization of a method for the extraction of blueberry anthocyanins and their identification was achieved. Thirteen anthocyanins from rabbiteye blueberry fruits using high-performance liquid chromatography-electrospray ionization interface-mass spectrometer (HPLC-ESI-MS) were identified. These results provided a reliable scientific basis for the study of anthocyanins from blueberry fruits, which would be helpful for further investigation of the function and application of blueberry anthocyanins extract to human health.

Along with studies on the quantity, extraction and identification of anthocyanins from blueberries, hypotensive effects of these compounds in endothelial cells were also investigated. Findings suggested that blueberry anthocyanins protected endothelial function against high-glucose injury via antioxidant and vasodilatory mechanisms, indicating they could be promising molecules as a hypotensive nutraceutical for diabetes patients.

In addition to studying the blueberry fruit, the leaves have been also investigated. The total phenolic, total flavonoid, and proanthocyanidin results from 73 different blueberry cultivars indicated that blueberry leaves may be a potential resource of antioxidant phenolics.

Bioactive Compunds in Foods: Impact on Human Health

There is a large amount of scientific literature regarding the effects of bioactive components on different diseases. However, it has not yet been possible to determine if these benefits are due to bioactive compound consumption as part of the usual diet, as functional foods or of eating patterns influence. There is also no evidence to show whether or not exceeding the dose where health benefits are obtained could cause any unwanted effects.

Bioactive compounds can act in various places in the body, and their modes of action include modifying hormonal profiles, lipids, anti-inflammatory effects, on hemostasis, and others. A number of potential mechanisms are known, using in vitro and cell culture techniques, but more evidence of direct effects on humans is needed. More research is needed to learn and understand the importance of the bioavailability of various bioactive compounds in order to develop adequate dietary guidelines.

Cardeñosa, V., Girones-Vilaplana, A., Muriel, J.L., Moreno, D. A., Moreno-Rojas, J. M. Influence of genotype, cultivation system and irrigation regime on antioxidant capacity and selected phenolics of blueberries (Vaccinium corymbosum L.). Food Chemistry. 2016. 202:276-83.
Huang, W.Y., Hutabarat, R.P., Chai, Z., Zheng, T.S., Yan, Z., Zhang, W.M. *, Li D.J.* Antioxidant blueberry anthocyanins induce vasodilation via PI3K/Akt signaling pathway in high-glucose-induced human umbilical vein endothelial cells. International Journal of Molecular Sciences, 2020, 21, 1575.
Huang, W. Y., Wu, H., Li, D. J., Song, J. F., Xiao, Y. D., Liu, C. Q., Zhou, J.Z., Sui, Z.Q. Protective effects of blueberry anthocyanins against H2O2-induced oxidative injury in human retinal pigment epithelial cells. Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, 2018, 66 (7), 1638-1648.
Hutabarat, R. P., Xiao, Y. D., Wu, H., Wang J., Li D.J., Huang, W. Y. Optimization and identification of anthocyanins extraction from rabbiteye blueberry fruits in Nanjing. Journal of Food Quality, 2019, 6806790.
Patil, B. S, Jayaprakasha, G. K., Chidambara Murthy, K. N., Vikram, A. Bioactive compounds: historical perspectives, opportunities, and challenges. Journal of Agriculture and Food Chemistry. 2009 Sep 23;57(18):8142-60.
Wu, H., Chai, Z., Hutabarat, R. P., Zeng, Q. L., Niu, L. Y., Li, D. J., Yu, H., Huang, W.Y. Blueberry leaves from 73 different cultivars in southeastern China as nutraceutical supplements rich in antioxidants. Food Research International 2019, 122, 548-560.
Yang, L., Wen, K. S., Ruan, X., Zhao, Y. X., Wei, F., Wang, Q. Response of plant secondary metabolites to environmental factors. Molecules. 2018;23(4):762.