Flavonoid antioxidants: chemistry, metabolism and structure-activity relationships

J Nutr Biochem. 2002 Oct;13(10):572-584. doi: 10.1016/s0955-2863(02)00208-5.


Flavonoids are a class of secondary plant phenolics with significant antioxidant and chelating properties. In the human diet, they are most concentrated in fruits, vegetables, wines, teas and cocoa. Their cardioprotective effects stem from the ability to inhibit lipid peroxidation, chelate redox-active metals, and attenuate other processes involving reactive oxygen species. Flavonoids occur in foods primarily as glycosides and polymers that are degraded to variable extents in the digestive tract. Although metabolism of these compounds remains elusive, enteric absorption occurs sufficiently to reduce plasma indices of oxidant status. The propensity of a flavonoid to inhibit free-radical mediated events is governed by its chemical structure. Since these compounds are based on the flavan nucleus, the number, positions, and types of substitutions influence radical scavenging and chelating activity. The diversity and multiple mechanisms of flavonoid action, together with the numerous methods of initiation, detection and measurement of oxidative processes in vitro and in vivo offer plausible explanations for existing discrepancies in structure-activity relationships. Despite some inconsistent lines of evidence, several structure-activity relationships are well established in vitro. Multiple hydroxyl groups confer upon the molecule substantial antioxidant, chelating and prooxidant activity. Methoxy groups introduce unfavorable steric effects and increase lipophilicity and membrane partitioning. A double bond and carbonyl function in the heterocycle or polymerization of the nuclear structure increases activity by affording a more stable flavonoid radical through conjugation and electron delocalization. Further investigation of the metabolism of these phytochemicals is justified to extend structure-activity relationships (SAR) to preventive and therapeutic nutritional strategies.