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AN OVERERVIEW OF MAJOR CLASSES OF PHYTOCHEMICALS: THEIR TYPES AND ROLE IN DISEASE PREVENTION

Authors:
  • Shri Dr R. G. Rathod Arts and Science college Murtizapur Dist-Akola
  • D. B. Science College, Gondia, Maharshtra, India

Abstract

The green belt of Mother Nature is the richest source of bioactive phytochemicals and natural nutraceuticals. Enormous work done during the past fifty years has shown that these phytochemicals play an important role in the routine healthcare systems worldwide. The major classes of phytochemicals like alkaloids, phenolics, terpenoids and tannins have potential to prevent diseases and act as anti-microbial, anti-inflammatory, anti-oxidant, anti-cancerous, detoxifying agent, immunity-potentiating agent and neuropharmacological agent. Each class of these functional agents consists of a wide range of chemicals with differing potency. Some of these phytochemicals are found to be multifunctional. There is, however, much scope for further systematic research in screening Indian medicinal plants for their phytochemicals and assessing their potentiality as crude drug or drug components.
Hislopia Journal 9 (1/2) 2016
ISSN: 0976-2124 1-11
AN OVERERVIEW OF MAJOR CLASSES OF
PHYTOCHEMICALS: THEIR TYPES AND ROLE IN
DISEASE PREVENTION
DEEPAK KOCHE1, RUPALI SHIRSAT2 & MAHESH KAWALE3
1Department of Botany, Shri Shivaji College of Arts, Commerce and Science,
Akola- 444003, (MS), India
2Department of Botany, Shri Dr. R. G. Rathod Arts and Science College,
Murtizapur- 444107, (MS), India
3Department of Botany, Dhote Bandhu Science College, Kudwa Road,
Gondia- 441614, (MS), India
Abstract The green belt of Mother Nature is the richest source of bioactive
phytochemicals and natural nutraceuticals. Enormous work done during
the past fifty years has shown that these phytochemicals play an
important role in the routine healthcare systems worldwide. The major
classes of phytochemicals like alkaloids, phenolics, terpenoids and
tannins have potential to prevent diseases and act as anti-microbial, anti-
inflammatory, anti-oxidant, anti-cancerous, detoxifying agent, immunity-
potentiating agent and neuropharmacological agent. Each class of these
functional agents consists of a wide range of chemicals with differing
potency. Some of these phytochemicals are found to be multifunctional.
There is, however, much scope for further systematic research in
screening Indian medicinal plants for their phytochemicals and assessing
their potentiality as crude drug or drug components.
Keywords phytochemicals, nutraceuticals, biological activities
Introduction
Phytochemicals are biolog-
ically active, naturally occurring
chemical compounds found in
plants, which provide health
benefits for humans as medicinal
ingredients and nutrients (HASLER
& BLUMBERG, 1999). They protect
plants from disease and damage,
and also contribute to the plant’s
colour, aroma and flavour. In
general, the plant chemicals that
protect plants from environmental
hazards such as pollution, stress,
drought, UV exposure and
pathogenic attack are called as
phytochemicals (GIBSON et al.,
1998; MATHAI, 2000). Recently, it
has been clearly shown that they
also have roles in the protection of
human health, when their dietary
intake is significant (SAMROT et al.,
2009; KOCHE et al., 2010). Till date
over 4,500 phytochemicals have
been reported and are classified on
the basis of their protective
functions, and physical and
chemical charac-teristics, amongst
these about 350 phytochemicals
KOCHE et al.
2
have been studied in detail (KOCHE
et al., 2010). Wide-ranging dietary
phytoche-micals are found in fruits,
vegetables, legumes, whole grains,
nuts, seeds, fungi, herbs and spices
(MATHAI, 2000). Broccoli, cabbage,
carrots, onions, garlic, whole wheat
bread, tomatoes, grapes, cherries,
strawberries, rasp-berries, beans
and soy foods are also the common
sources of phytochemicals
(MOORACHIAN, 2000). Phyto-
chemicals accumulate in different
parts of the plants, such as in the
root, stem, leaf, flower, fruit and
seed (COSTA et al., 1999). Many
phytochemicals, particularly the
pigment molecules like antho-
cyanines and flavonoids, are often
concentrated in the outer layers of
the various plant parts like leaves
and fruits of vegetables. However,
the levels of these phytochemcials
vary from plant to plant depending
upon the variety, climatic growing
conditions (RAO, 2003). These
compounds have biological
properties such as antioxidant
activity, anti-microbial effect,
modulation of detoxification
enzymes, stim-ulation of the
immune system, decrease of
platelet aggregation and modulation
of hormone metabolism and
anticancer property (HAMBURGER
& HOSTETTMANN, 1991). At the
same time, HORBORNE (1999)
reported the anti-nutritional
properties of some plant chemicals.
The present review is a brief
summary of the extremely diverse
phytochemicals present in plants
and their varied bioactivities.
Classification of Phytochemicals
The exact classification of
phytochemicals has not been given
so far, because of their diverse
forms and structures. Classically,
the phytochemicals have been
classified as primary or secondary
metabolites, depending on their role
in plant metabolism. Primary
metabolites include the common
sugars, amino acids, proteins,
purines and pyrimidines of nucleic
acids, chlorophylls etc. Secondary
metabolites are the remaining plant
chemicals such as alkaloids,
terpenes, flavonoids, lignans, plant
steroids, curcumines, saponins,
phenolics and glucosides (HAHN,
1998; RAMAWATet. al., 2009).
Literature survey indicates that
phenolics are the most common
and structurally most diverse plant
chemicals. The percent occurrence
of phytochemicals in the plants and
their role in human health care is
given in table-1.
Phenolic Compounds
Phenolic compounds
represent the largest category of
phytochemicals and are most
widely distributed in the plant
kingdom (WALTON et al., 2003).
Phenolics are hydroxyl group (OH)
containing class of chemical
compounds where the (OH) group
is bonded directly to an aromatic
hydrocarbon group. Phenol
(C6H5OH) is considered the simplest
class of this group of natural
AN OVERERVIEW OF MAJOR CLASSES OF PHYTOCHEMICALS…
3
compounds. Being a secondary
metabolite, they have an important
role as defense compounds.
Phenolics exhibit several properties
beneficial to humans and its
antioxidant properties are
important in determining their role
as protecting agents against free
radical-mediated disease processes.
The three most important groups of
dietary phenolics are flavonoids,
phenolicacids and polyphenols.
Table 1.Occurrence and role of major classes of phytochemicals.
Class of
phytochemical
Occurrence as natural
product (%)
Role in health care
Phenolics
45
Anti-oxidants, anti-
cancerous, cytotoxicants,
anti-microbials and
vasodilating
Terpenoids and
Steroids
27
Anti-microbials, detoxifying
agents, strengthners, anti-
rheumatics, anti-malarial,
hepaticidal
Alkaloids
18
Neuropharmaceuticals, anti-
cancerous, sedatives, anti-
microbials, insecticidal
Other chemicals
10
Anti-inflammatory,
Immunostimulating
Flavonoids are the largest
group of plant phenols and also
the most studied one (DAI &
MUMPER, 2010). They are
polyphenolic compounds that are
ubiquitous in nature and occur as
aglycones, glucosides and
methylated derivatives. More than
4,000 flavonoids have been
recognized, many of which occur in
vegetables, fruits and beverages
like tea, coffee and fruit drinks
(PRIDHAM, 1960). The flavonoids
appear to have played a major role
in successful medical treatments
in ancient times, and their use has
persisted up to now. Most
flavonoids occur naturally
associated with sugar in
conjugated form and within any
one class, may be characterized as
monoglycosidic, diglycosidic etc.
The glycosidic linkage is normally
located at the position 3 or 7 and
the carbohydrate unit can be L-
rhamnose, D-glucose, gluco-
rhamnose, galactose or arabinose
(PRETORIUS, 2003). Flavonoids
have gained recent attention
because of their broad biological
and pharmacological activities. The
flavonoids have been reported to
exert multiple biological properties
including anti-microbial, cytotoxic,
KOCHE et al.
4
anti-inflammatory and anti-tumor
activities; but the best-described
property of almost every group of
flavonoids is the capacity to act as
powerful antioxidants (SHIRSAT et.
al., 2012; TEITEN et. al., 2013)
which can protect the human body
from the dangerous free radicals
and reactive oxygen species (ROS).
Phenolic acids form a
diverse group that includes the
widely distributed hydroxy-benzoic
and hydroxycinnamic acids.
Phenolic polymers, commonly
known as tannins, are compounds
of high molecular weight that are
divided into two classes viz.
hydrolyzable tannins and
condensed tannins. The term
‘phenolic acids’, in general,
designates phenols that possess
one carboxylic acid functional
group. Naturally occurring
phenolic acids contain two
distinctive carbon frameworks viz.
the hydroxycinnamic and hydro-
xybenzoic structures. Hydroxy-
cinnamic acid compounds are
produced as simple esters with
glucose or hydroxy carboxylic
acids. Plant phenolic compounds
are different in molecular
structure, and are characterized by
hydroxylated aromatic rings
(BALSUNDARAM et al., 2006).
These compounds have been
studied mainly for their properties
against oxidative damage leading
to various degenerative diseases,
such as cardiovascular diseases,
inflammation and cancer. Indeed,
tumour cells, including leukaemia
cells, typically have higher levels of
reactive oxygen species than
normal cells so that they are
particularly sensitive to oxidative
stress (MANDAL et al., 2010).
Tannins
Chemically, it is difficult to
define tannins since the term
encompasses some very diverse
oligomers and polymers
(HARBORNE, 1999). It might be
said that the tannins are a
heterogeneous group of high
molecular weight polyphenolic
compounds with the capacity to
form reversible and irreversible
complexes with proteins (mainly),
polysaccharides (cellulose,
hemicellulose, pectin etc.),
alkaloids, nucleic acids and
minerals (SCHOFIELDet al., 2001).
On the basis of their structural
characteristics it is therefore
possible to divide the tannins into
four major groups: Gallotannins,
ellagitannins, complex tannins and
condensed tannins.
Gallotannins- Tannins in which
galloyl units or their meta-depsidic
derivatives are bound to diverse
polyol-, catechin-, or triterpenoid
units.
Ellagitannins- Tannins in which at
least two galloyl units are CC
coupled to each other and do not
contain a glycosidically linked
catechin unit.
Complex tannins- Tannins in which
a catechin unit is bound
glycosidically to a gallotannin or
an ellagitannin unit.
AN OVERERVIEW OF MAJOR CLASSES OF PHYTOCHEMICALS…
5
Condensed tannins- All oligomeric
and polymeric proanthocyanidins
formed by linkage of C-4 of one
catechin with C-8 or C-6 of the
next monomeric catechin.
Tannins are found
commonly in fruits such as grapes,
persimmon, blueberry, tea,
chocolate, legume forages, legume
trees like Acacia spp., Sesbania
spp., in grasses like sorghum, corn
etc. (GINER-CHAVEZ, 1996).
Several health benefits have been
recognized for the intake of
tannins and some epidemiological
associa-tions with the decreased
frequency of chronic diseases have
been established (SERRANO et al.,
2009). Recently the tannins have
attracted scientific interest,
especially due to the increased
incidence of deadly diseases such
as AIDS and cancers. The search
for new lead compounds for the
development of novel pharma-
ceuticals has become increasingly
important, especially as the
biological action of tannin-
containing plant extracts has been
well documented (MUELLER-
HARVEY, 1999).
Alkaloids
Alkaloids are natural
products that contain heterocyclic
nitrogen atoms and are always
basic in character. The name of
alkaloids derives from the ‘alkaline’
nature and it was used to describe
any nitrogen-containing base
(MULLER-HARVEY, 1999). Almost
all the alkaloids have a bitter taste.
The alkaloid quinine, for example,
is one of the bitter tasting
substances known and is
significantly bitter (1x10-5) at a
molar concentration (MISHRA,
1989). Alkaloids are so numerous
and involve such a variety of
molecular structure that their
rational classification is difficult.
However, the best approach is to
group them into families,
depending on the type of
heterocyclic ring system present in
the molecule (KRISHNAN et al.,
1983). The various classes of
alkaloids according to the
heterocyclic ring system they
contain are listed below.
Pyrrolidine alkaloids- These
contain pyrrolidine (tetrahy-
dropyrrole) ring system. For
example, hygrine found in leaves of
Erythroxylum spp. &Leonotis spp.
Pyridine alkaloids- These have
piperidine (hexahydropyridine) ring
system. For example, coniine,
piperine and isope-lletierine.
Pyrrolidine-pyridine alkaloids-
These contain the heterocyclic ring
system with pyrrolidi-nepyridine.
For example myosmine, nicotine
alkaloid found in tobacco
(Nicotianatabaccum).
Pyridine-piperidine alkaloids- This
family of alkaloids contains a
pyridine ring system joined to a
piperidine ring system. For
example, anabasine alkaloid from
Anabasis aphyllan.
Quinoline alkaloids- These have
the basic heterocyclic ring system
quinoline. For example, quinine
KOCHE et al.
6
occurs in the bark of cinchona
tree.
Isoquinoline alkaloids- They
contain heterocyclic rig system
isoquinoline. For example, opium
alkaloids like narcotine,
papaverine, morphine, codeine,
and heroine.
Alkaloids are significant for
the survival of plant because they
ensure their protection against
micro-organisms (antibacterial and
antifungal activities), insects and
herbivores (feeding deterrents) and
also against other plants by means
of allelopathy (MOLINEUX et al.,
1996). The use of alkaloids
containing plants as dyes, spices,
drugs or poisons can be traced
back almost to the beginning of
civilization. Alkaloids have many
pharmacological activities
including anti-hypertensive effects
(many indole alkaloids), anti-
arrhythmic effect (quini-dine,
spareien), anti-malarial activity
(quinine), and anti-cancer actions
(dimericindoles, vincristine,
vinblastine). These are just a few
examples illustrating the great
economic importance of this group
of plant constituents. Some
alkaloids have stimulant property
as caffeine and nicotine, morphine
are used as the analgesic and
quinine as the antimalarial drug
(WINK et al., 1998).
Terpenoids
This class comprises
natural products which have been
derived from five-carbon isoprene
units. Most of the terpenoids have
multi cyclic structures that differ
from one another by their
functional groups and basic
carbon skeletons. These types of
natural lipids can be found in
every class of living things and
therefore considered as the largest
group of naturally occurring
secondary metabolites (ELBEIN et
al., 1999). Many of these are
commercially interesting because
of their use as flavours and
fragrances in foods and cosmetics
(HORBORNE & TOMAS-
BARBERAN 1991). Terpenes are
widespread in nature, mainly in
plants as constituents of essential
oils. Their building block is the
hydrocarbon isoprene,
CH2=C(CH3)-CH=CH2.
Hemiterpenoids- Consist of a single
isoprene unit. The only
hemiterpene is the isoprene itself,
but oxygen-containing derivatives
of isoprene such as isovaleric acid
and prenol are also classified as
hemiterpenoids.
Monoterpenoids-Monoterpen-oids
have two isoprene units.
Monoterpenes may be of two types
i.e. linear (acyclic) or rings
containing e.g. Geranyl
pyrophosphate, Eucalyptol, Limon-
ene, Citral, Camphor and Pinene.
Sesquiterpenes- Sesquiterpenes
have three isoprene units e.g.
Artemisinin, Bisabolol and
Fernesol, cyclic compounds, such
as Eudesmol found in Eucalyptus
oil.
AN OVERERVIEW OF MAJOR CLASSES OF PHYTOCHEMICALS…
7
Diterpenes- These are composed
for four isoprene units. They are
derived from geranyl-geranyl
pyrophosphate. For example,
cembrene, kahweol, taxadiene and
cafestol. Retinol, retinal, and
phytol are the biologically
important compounds while using
diterpenes as the base.
Triterpenes- These consist of six
isoprene units e.g. Lanosterol and
squalene found in wheat germ and
olives.
Tetraterpenoids- They contain
eight isoprene units which may be
acyclic like lycopene, monocyclic
like gamma-carotene or bicyclic
like alpha- and beta-carotenes.
Among plant secondary
metabolites terpenoids are a
structurally most diverse group;
they functions as phytoalexins in
plant’s direct defense or as signals
in indirect defense responses,
which involve herbivores and their
natural enemies (MCCASKILL &
CROTEAU, 1998). Many plants
produce volatile terpenes in order
to attract specific insects for
pollination. Some plants produces
less volatile but strongly bitter-
tasting or toxic terpenes also
protect some plants from being
eaten by animals (DEGENHARDT
et al., 2003). In addition,
terpenoids can have medicinal
properties such as anti-
carcinogenic (e.g. perilla alcohol),
anti-malarial (e.g. artemisinin),
anti-ulcer, hepaticidal, anti-
microbial or diuretic (e.g.
glycyrrhizin) activity and the
sesquiterpenoid anti-malarial drug
artimisinin and the diter-
penoidanticancer drug taxol
(LANGENHEIM, 1994; DUDAREVA
et al., 2004).
Saponin
Most members of this
group form stable foam in aqueous
solutions such as soap, hence the
name ‘saponin’. Chemically,
saponins, as a group, include
compounds that are glycosylated
steroids, triterpenoids and steroid
alkaloids. Two main types of
steroid aglycones are known,
spirostan and furostan derivatives.
The main triterpeneaglycone is a
derivative of oleanane (BOHLMANN
et al., 1998). The carbohydrate
part consists of one or more sugar
moieties containing glucose,
galactose, xylose, arabinose,
rhamnose, or glucuronic acid
glycosidically linked to a sapogenin
(aglycone). Saponins that have one
sugar molecule attached at the C-3
position are called monodesmo-
sidesaponins, and those that have
a minimum of two sugars, one
attached to the C-3 and one at C-
22, are called bidesmoside-
saponins(LASZTITY et al., 1998).
Many saponins are known
to be anti-microbial, to inhibit
mould, and to protect plants from
insect attack. Saponins may be
considered a part of plants’
defense systems, and as such have
been included in a large group of
protective molecules found in
plants named phytoanticipins or
phytoprotectants (LACAILLE-
KOCHE et al.
8
DUBOIS & WAGNER, 2000).
Saponin mixtures present in
plants and plant products possess
diverse biological effects when
present in the animal body.
Extensive research has been
carried out into the membrane-
permeabilizing, immunostim-
ulant, hypocholesterolaemic and
anti-carcinogenic properties of
saponins and they have also been
found to significantly affect
growth, feed intake and
reproduction in animals. These
structurally diverse compounds
have also been observed to kill
protozoans and molluscs, to be
antioxidants, to impair the
digestion of protein and the uptake
of vitamins and minerals in the
gut, to cause hypoglycaemia and to
act as antifungal and antiviral
agents (MORREISSY & OSBOURN,
1999; TAKECHIet al., 1999;
TRAOREet al., 2000).
Conclusion
Nature is a unique source
of phytochemical with high
diversity and many of them
possessing interesting biological
activities with significant medicinal
properties. In the context of the
worldwide scenario of different
diseases, an intensive search for
new lead compounds for the
development of novel pharma-
cological therapeutics is extremely
important. From the above
discussion, it is difficult to
establish clear functionality and
structureactivity relationships
regarding the effects of
phytochemicals in biological-
systems activity. This is largely
due to the occurrence of a vast
number of phytochemicals with
similar chemical structures, and to
the complexity of physiological
reactions. Moreover, given the
number of phytochemicals isolated
so far, nature must still have many
more in store. With the advances
in synthetic methodology and the
development of more sophisticated
isolation and analytical techni-
ques, many new phytochemicals
might be identified as lead
compounds in drug development
on various diseases.
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AN OVERERVIEW OF MAJOR CLASSES OF PHYTOCHEMICALS…
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... These naturally occurring chemical compounds provide the plants with protection from various diseases and damage. Besides contributing to the plant's color, flavor, and aroma, these also protect the plants from environmental hazards such as various stresses including drought, salinity, UV exposure, pathogen attack, and pollution (Koche et al. 2016). Among the tens of thousands of phytochemicals, a small number have been identified and isolated. ...
... Reportedly more than 100,000 secondary metabolites are synthesized in plants under various unfavorable conditions (Khare et al. 2020). Major secondary metabolites such as alkaloids, phenolics, terpenoids, and tannins are potential antimicrobial, antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and anti-cancerous agents (Koche et al. 2016). Secondary metabolites help the plants in surviving various abiotic stresses such as drought and salinity. ...
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Both biotic and abiotic stresses cause a great harm to plants by hampering growth and reducing yield. Various unfavorable conditions such as drought and salinization lead to an increased production of free radicals (●OH, O2●−, ●NO) and imbalances in cellular redox homeostasis. This imbalance results in oxidative stress and subsequent stress responses in the plant. Oxidative stress can be the cause of oxidative damage to the biomolecules like proteins, lipids, and deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA); photosynthetic systems; and cell death. The stress responses include diverse signaling pathways leading to various molecular, physiological, biochemical, and morphological adaptations that help the plants to withstand the stress. In addition to primary metabolites, plants produce various secondary metabolites that aid in plant survival during stress. Secondary metabolites such as polyphenols, flavonoids, carotenoids, phenolic acids, terpenoids, and alkaloids enhance the plant survival by acting as antioxidants, direct free radical scavenging, indirect ROS signaling, UV absorbing, and improving structural and functional stabilization and anti-proliferative and defense against bacteria, fungi, and viruses. Terpenes directly detoxify ROS, cause membrane stabilization, and lead to stress-induced senescence. Alkaloids have an antioxidant potential of scavenging free radicals and inhibit H2O2-induced oxidation. Phenolic compounds efficiently scavenge ROS and act as potential nonenzymatic antioxidants. In addition to this, these improve plant metabolism, growth and development, seed germination, and biomass accumulation. Increase in secondary metabolite levels in response to various stresses has been reported in various plants, for example, Catharanthus roseus, Hypericum perforatum, Artemisia annua, Rauvolfia tetraphylla, Solanum nigrum, and Achillea fragrantissima.
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Lignans, ubiquitous constituents of vascular plants, have a number of properties that are of use to humans: some can protect against the onset of various cancers,1 whereas others have antimitotic, antiviral, antibacterial, and antifungal properties.2 Certain lignans can also function, for example, as antioxidants, platelet activating factor receptor antagonists, and anti-tubercular agents, and others are disinfectants, moth repellants, and insecticides.3–5 Because of their important applications from a health and economic perspective, intensified efforts are being expended to both understand and manipulate their biosynthetic pathways. Accordingly, this chapter highlights progress being made towards deciphering the 8–8’ linked lignan metabolic pathway and its utility to the bioengineering of human foodstuffs.
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