It is universally accepted that diets rich in fruit and vegetables lead to reduction in the risk of common forms of cancer and are useful in cancer prevention. Indeed edible vegetables and fruits contain a wide variety of phytochemicals with proven antioxidant, anti-carcinogenic, and chemopreventive activity; moreover, some of these phytochemicals also display direct antiproliferative activity towards tumor cells, with the additional advantage of high tolerability and low toxicity. The most important dietary phytochemicals are isothiocyanates, ellagitannins (ET), polyphenols, indoles, flavonoids, retinoids, tocopherols. Among this very wide panel of compounds, ET represent an important class of phytochemicals which are being increasingly investigated for their chemopreventive and anticancer activities. This article reviews the chemistry, the dietary sources, the pharmacokinetics, the evidence on chemopreventive efficacy and the anticancer activity of ET with regard to the most sensitive tumors, as well as the mechanisms underlying their clinically-valuable properties.
Keywords: cancer; cancer therapy; chemoprevention; ellagitannins; phytochemicals; safety.