Molecular mechanisms of toxicity of important food-borne phytotoxins

I.M.C.M. Rietjens, M.J. Martena, M.G. Boersma, W. Spiegelenberg, G.M. Alink

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

67 Citations (Scopus)


At present, there is an increasing interest for plant ingredients and their use in drugs, for teas, or in food supplements. The present review describes the nature and mechanism of action of the phytochemicals presently receiving increased attention in the field of food toxicology. This relates to compounds including aristolochic acids, pyrrolizidine alkaloids, ß-carotene, coumarin, the alkenylbenzenes safrole, methyleugenol and estragole, ephedrine alkaloids and synephrine, kavalactones, anisatin, St. John's wort ingredients, cyanogenic glycosides, solanine and chaconine, thujone, and glycyrrhizinic acid. It can be concluded that several of these phytotoxins cause concern, because of their bioactivation to reactive alkylating intermediates that are able to react with cellular macromolecules causing cellular toxicity, and, upon their reaction with DNA, genotoxicity resulting in tumors. Another group of the phytotoxins presented is active without the requirement for bioactivation and, in most cases, these compounds appear to act as neurotoxins interacting with one of the neurotransmitter systems. Altogether, the examples presented illustrate that natural does not equal safe and that in modern society adverse health effects, upon either acute or chronic exposure to phytochemicals, can occur as a result of use of plant- or herb-based foods, teas, or other extracts.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)131-158
Number of pages27
JournalMolecular Nutrition & Food Research
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2005


  • st-johns-wort
  • chinese herbs nephropathy
  • naturally-occurring alkenylbenzenes
  • unscheduled dna-synthesis
  • post-labeling analysis
  • carcinogenic aristolochic acids
  • human cytochrome-p450 enzymes
  • lung-cancer promotion
  • beta-carotene
  • hypericum-perforatum

Fingerprint Dive into the research topics of 'Molecular mechanisms of toxicity of important food-borne phytotoxins'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

  • Cite this