British Journal of Nutrition

Research Article

The biological action of saponins in animal systems: a review

George Francisa1, Zohar Kerema2, Harinder P. S. Makkara3 and Klaus Beckera1 c1

a1 Department of Aquaculture Systems and Animal Nutrition, Institute for Animal Production in the Tropics and Subtropics, University of Hohenheim (480), D 70593 Stuttgart, Germany

a2 Institute of Biochemistry, Food Science and Nutrition, Faculty of Agricultural, Food and Environmental Quality Sciences, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, P.O.B. 12, Rehovot 76100, Israel

a3 Animal Production and Health Section, International Atomic Energy Agency, P.O. Box 100, Wagramerstr. 5, A-1400 Vienna, Austria


Saponins are steroid or triterpenoid glycosides, common in a large number of plants and plant products that are important in human and animal nutrition. Several biological effects have been ascribed to saponins. Extensive research has been carried out into the membrane-permeabilising, immunostimulant, hypocholesterolaemic and anticarcinogenic 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. These compounds can thus affect animals in a host of different ways both positive and negative.

(Received December 04 2001)

(Revised June 19 2002)

(Accepted August 11 2002)


c1 *Corresponding author: Professor Dr K. Becker, fax +49 711 4593702, email