Bioactive food components and cancer risk reduction

J Cell Biochem. 2008 May 1;104(1):339-56. doi: 10.1002/jcb.21623.


Research over the last three decades has provided convincing evidence to support the premise that diets rich in fruits and vegetables may be protective against the risk of different types of cancers. Initial evidence for protective effect of fruits and vegetables against cancer risk came from population-based case-control studies, which prompted intense research aimed at (a) identification of bioactive component(s) responsible for the anticancer effects of fruits and vegetables, (b) elucidation of the mechanisms by which bioactive food components may prevent cancer, and (c) determination of their efficacy for prevention of cancer in animal models. The bioactive components responsible for cancer chemopreventive effects of various edible plants have now been identified. For instance, anticancer effect of Allium vegetables including garlic is attributed to organosulfur compounds (e.g., diallyl trisulfide). Interestingly, unlike cancer chemotherapy drugs, many bioactive food components selectively target cancer cells. Molecular basis for selectivity of anticancer bioactive food components towards cancer cells remains elusive, but these agents appear promiscuous and target multiple signal transduction pathways to inhibit cancer cell growth in vitro and in vivo. Despite convincing observational and experimental evidence, however, limited effort has been directed towards clinical investigations to determine efficacy of bioactive food components for prevention of human cancers. This article reviews current knowledge on cancer chemopreventive effects of a few highly promising dietary constituents, including garlic-derived organosulfides, berry compounds, and cruciferous vegetable-derived isothiocyanates, and serves to illustrate complexity of the signal transduction mechanisms in cancer chemoprevention by these promising bioactive food components.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Chemoprevention / methods*
  • Diet
  • Fruit / chemistry*
  • Humans
  • Neoplasms / prevention & control*
  • Risk Reduction Behavior
  • Vegetables / chemistry*