Polyphenols and consequently many flavonoids have several beneficial actions on human health. However, the actual molecular interactions of polyphenols with biological systems remain mostly speculative. This review addresses the potential mechanisms of action that have been so far identified, as well as the feasibility that they could occur in vivo. Those mechanisms include: i) non specific actions, based on chemical features common to most polyphenols, e.g. the presence of a phenol group to scavenge free radicals; and ii) specific mechanisms; based on particular structural and conformational characteristics of select polyphenols and the biological target, e.g. proteins, or defined membrane domains. A better knowledge about the nature and biological consequences of polyphenol interactions with cell components will certainly contribute to develop nutritional and pharmacological strategies oriented to prevent the onset and/or the consequences of human disease.
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