a1 Rowett Research Institute, Aberdeen, AB21 9SB, UK
Epidemiological evidence suggests that diets rich in fruit and vegetables decrease the risk of premature mortality from major clinical conditions, including cancer and heart disease. However, it is not yet clear which components or combination of components in fruit and vegetables are protective and what is their mechanism of action. Such scientific uncertainty does not seem to inhibit the marketing of a huge range of plant-based concoctions, promoted as ‘magic bullets’ for optimum health. For example, the purported health-giving properties of plant polyphenols represent a case in which enthusiastic marketing claims may far exceed the current scientific evidence. Even when good experimental evidence exists, results need to be interpreted with caution in relation to human health benefits, as polyphenols may have limited bioavailability and may also be extensively metabolised. In addition, some polyphenols can be toxic and mutagenic in some cell culture systems. Until more is known about the activity and metabolic fate of polyphenols in the body, it would be better for the consumer to increase fruit and vegetable intake, and also to be wary of claims that these compounds are a panacea for good health.