The biological action of saponins in animal systems: a review

Br J Nutr. 2002 Dec;88(6):587-605. doi: 10.1079/BJN2002725.


Saponins are steroid or triterpenoid glycosides, common in a large number of plants and plant products that are important in human and animal nutrition. Several biological effects have been ascribed to saponins. Extensive research has been carried out into the membrane-permeabilising, immunostimulant, hypocholesterolaemic and anticarcinogenic properties of saponins and they have also been found to significantly affect growth, feed intake and reproduction in animals. These structurally diverse compounds have also been observed to kill protozoans and molluscs, to be antioxidants, to impair the digestion of protein and the uptake of vitamins and minerals in the gut, to cause hypoglycaemia, and to act as antifungal and antiviral agents. These compounds can thus affect animals in a host of different ways both positive and negative.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Antimetabolites
  • Blood Glucose / metabolism
  • Cell Division / drug effects
  • Cell Membrane / drug effects
  • Cell Membrane / metabolism
  • Cell Membrane Permeability / drug effects
  • Cholesterol / metabolism
  • Dietary Proteins / metabolism
  • Digestion / drug effects
  • Energy Intake / drug effects
  • Glucocorticoids
  • Growth / drug effects
  • Humans
  • Immune System / drug effects
  • Neoplasms / pathology
  • Nervous System / drug effects
  • Reproduction / drug effects
  • Saponins / isolation & purification
  • Saponins / metabolism
  • Saponins / pharmacology*


  • Antimetabolites
  • Blood Glucose
  • Dietary Proteins
  • Glucocorticoids
  • Saponins
  • Cholesterol