Hepatoprotective effects of natural compounds have been frequently attributed to their antioxidant properties and the ability to mobilize endogenous antioxidant defense system. Because of involvement of oxidative stress in virtually all mechanisms of liver injury, it is a reasonable presumption that antioxidant properties of these compounds may play a key role in the mechanism of their hepatoprotective activity. Nevertheless, growing evidence suggests that other pharmacological activities of natural compounds distinct from antioxidant are responsible for their therapeutic effects. In this review, we discussed currently known molecular mechanisms of the hepatoprotective activity of 27 most intensively studied phytochemicals. These compounds have been shown to possess anti-inflammatory, antisteatotic, antiapoptotic, cell survival and antiviral activity through interference with multiple molecular targets and signaling pathways. Additionally, antifibrotic properties of phytochemicals have been closely associated with apoptosis of hepatic stellate cells and stimulation of extracellular matrix degradation. However, although these compounds exhibit a pronounced hepatoprotective effects in animal and cell culture models, the lack of clinical studies remains a bottleneck for their official acceptance by medical experts and physicians. Therefore, controlled clinical trials have an imperative in confirmation of the therapeutic activity of potentially hepatoprotective compounds. Understanding the principles of the hepatoprotective activity of phytochemicals could guide future drug development and help prevention of clinical trial failure. Also, the use of new delivery systems that enhances bioavailability of poorly water soluble compounds may improve the results already obtained. Most importantly, available data suggest that phytochemicals possess a various degree of modulation of specific signaling pathways, pointing out a need for usage of combinations of several hepatoprotective compounds in both experimental studies and clinical trials.
Keywords: Chemopreventive; Hepatic fibrosis; Hepatic steatosis; Hepatoprotection; Liver inflammation; Phytochemicals.