Prevention from radiation damage by natural products

Phytomedicine. 2018 Aug 1:47:192-200. doi: 10.1016/j.phymed.2017.11.005. Epub 2017 Nov 13.


Background: Radiotherapy is a mainstay of cancer treatment since decades. Ionizing radiation (IR) is used for destruction of cancer cells and shrinkage of tumors. However, the increase of radioresistance in cancer cells and radiation toxicity to normal tissues are severe concerns. The exposure to radiation generates intracellular reactive oxygen species (ROS), which leads to DNA damage by lipid peroxidation, removal of thiol groups from cellular and membrane proteins, strand breaks and base alterations.

Hypothesis: Plants have to deal with radiation-induced damage (UV-light of sun, other natural radiation sources). Therefore, it is worth speculating that radioprotective mechanisms have evolved during evolution of life. We hypothesize that natural products from plants may also protect from radiation damage caused as adverse side effects of cancer radiotherapy.

Methods: The basis of this systematic review, we searched the relevant literature in the PubMed database.

Results: Flavonoids, such as genistein, epigallocatechin-3-gallate, epicatechin, apigenin and silibinin mainly act as antioxidant, free radical scavenging and anti-inflammatory compounds, thus, providing cytoprotection in addition to downregulation of several pro-inflammatory cytokines. Comparable effects have been found in phenylpropanoids, especially caffeic acid phenylethylester, curcumin, thymol and zingerone. Besides, resveratrol and quercetin are the most important cytoprotective polyphenols. Their radioprotective effects are mediated by a wide range of mechanisms mainly leading to direct or indirect reduction of cellular stress. Ascorbic acid is broadly used as antioxidant, but it has also shown activity in reducing cellular damage after irradiation mainly due to its antioxidant capabilities. The metal ion chelator, gallic acid, represents another natural product attenuating cellular damage caused by radiation.

Conclusions: Some secondary metabolites from plants reveal radioprotective features against cellular damage caused by irradiation. These results warrant further analysis to develop phytochemicals as radioprotectors for clinical use.

Keywords: Cancer; Phytochemical; Radioprotection; Radiotherapy; Side effects.

Publication types

  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Antioxidants / pharmacology
  • Ascorbic Acid
  • Curcumin / pharmacology
  • DNA Damage / drug effects
  • Flavonoids / pharmacology
  • Flavonoids / therapeutic use
  • Humans
  • Lipid Peroxidation
  • Neoplasms / radiotherapy
  • Phytochemicals / pharmacology*
  • Plants / chemistry
  • Polyphenols / pharmacology
  • Radiation Injuries / prevention & control*
  • Radiation-Protective Agents / pharmacology*
  • Radiotherapy / adverse effects*
  • Reactive Oxygen Species / metabolism
  • Resveratrol
  • Stilbenes / pharmacology


  • Antioxidants
  • Flavonoids
  • Phytochemicals
  • Polyphenols
  • Radiation-Protective Agents
  • Reactive Oxygen Species
  • Stilbenes
  • Curcumin
  • Ascorbic Acid
  • Resveratrol