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European medicinal and edible plants associated with subacute and chronic toxicity part I: Plants with carcinogenic, teratogenic and endocrine-disrupting effects

Kristanc, Luka, Kreft, Samo
Food and chemical toxicology 2016 v.92 pp. 150-164
Pteridium aquilinum, anthraquinones, carcinogenicity, chronic toxicity, developed countries, food plants, foods, genotoxicity, glycosides, herbal medicines, human health, licorice, plant estrogens, poisonous plants, ptaquiloside, pyrrolizidine alkaloids, teratogenicity, toxic substances, toxicology, Europe
In recent decades, the use of herbal medicines and food products has been widely embraced in many developed countries. These products are generally highly accepted by consumers who often believe that “natural” equals “safe”. This is, however, an oversimplification because several botanicals have been found to contain toxic compounds in concentrations harmful to human health. Acutely toxic plants are in most cases already recognised as dangerous as a result of their traditional use, but plants with subacute and chronic toxicity are difficult or even impossible to detect by traditional use or by clinical research studies. In this review, we systematically address major issues including the carcinogenicity, teratogenicity and endocrine-disrupting effects associated with the use of herbal preparations with a strong focus on plant species that either grow natively or are cultivated in Europe. The basic information regarding the molecular mechanisms of the individual subtypes of plant-induced non-acute toxicity is given, which is followed by a discussion of the pathophysiological and clinical characteristics. We describe the genotoxic and carcinogenic effects of alkenylbenzenes, pyrrolizidine alkaloids and bracken fern ptaquiloside, the teratogenicity issues regarding anthraquinone glycosides and specific alkaloids, and discuss the human health concerns regarding the phytoestrogens and licorice consumption in detail.