Obesity is one of the greatest public health problems. This complex condition has reached epidemic proportions in many parts of the world, and it constitutes a risk factor for several chronic disorders, such as hypertension, cardiovascular diseases and type 2 diabetes. In the last few decades, several studies dealt with the potential effects of natural products as new safe and effective tools for body weight control. Saponins are naturally-occurring surface-active glycosides, mainly produced by plants, whose structure consists of a sugar moiety linked to a hydrophobic aglycone (a steroid or a triterpene). Many pharmacological properties have been reported for these compounds, such as anti-inflammatory, immunostimulant, hypocholesterolemic, hypoglycemic, antifungal and cytotoxic activities. The aim of this review is to provide an overview of recent studies about the anti-obesity therapeutic potential of saponins isolated from medicinal plants. Results on the in vitro and in vivo activity of this class of phytochemicals are here presented and discussed. The most interesting findings about their possible mechanism of action and their potential health benefits in the treatment of obesity are reported, as well.
Keywords: lipid metabolism; medicinal plant; obesity; phytochemicals; saponins.