Are plant-based functional foods better choice against cancer than single phytochemicals? A critical review of current breast cancer research

Biomed Pharmacother. 2017 Dec:96:1465-1477. doi: 10.1016/j.biopha.2017.11.134. Epub 2017 Dec 1.


Breast cancer is the most common malignancy in women worldwide. Over 90% of all breast cancer cases are of different 'sporadic' cell types, thus placing emphasis on the need for breast cancer prevention and new effective treatment strategies. In recent years, pre-clinical research provides growing evidence regarding the beneficial action of bioactive plant-derived substances - phytochemicals, on multiple cancer-related biological pathways. The important natural source of various phytochemicals with anti-oncogenic properties are plant-based functional foods. It is hypothesized that a significant anti-tumour activity of plant-based functional foods are the result of a combination of various phytochemicals rather than an isolated agent. The mixture of phytochemicals with various biological activities present in whole foods could have additive or synergistic effects against carcinogenesis. Clinically, it is very important to compare the effect of the isolated phytochemicals against the mixture of phytochemicals present in specific plant-based functional foods. Therefore, the purpose of this review article is to compare anticancer activities of isolated phytochemicals and plant-based functional foods for the prevention and therapy of breast carcinoma. Our conclusion supports the hypothesis that a mixture of wide range of phytochemicals with a plethora of biological activities present in whole plant-derived foods could have additive or synergistic effects against breast cancer. Although, the lack of parallel comparative studies between whole natural foods versus isolated plant compounds limits our conclusion, future pre-clinical and clinical studies evaluating this issue is required.

Keywords: Anti-tumour activity; Breast cancer; Chemoprevention; Isolated compounds; Phytochemicals; Plant-based functional foods; Synergism; Therapy.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Antineoplastic Agents / pharmacology*
  • Antineoplastic Agents / therapeutic use*
  • Breast Neoplasms / drug therapy*
  • Female
  • Functional Food
  • Humans
  • Phytochemicals / pharmacology*
  • Phytochemicals / therapeutic use*


  • Antineoplastic Agents
  • Phytochemicals