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SECOND INTERNATIONAL SYMPOSIUM
ON THE ROLE OF SOY
IN PREVENTING AND TREATING CHRONIC DISEASE
September 15-18, 1996
Soy and Cancer
Soybean Anticarcinogens / Anticancer Mechanisms
Anticarcinogenic Properties of Plant Saponins
A.V. Rao, Department of Nutritional Sciences, University of Toronto, Toronto, Ontario, Canada.
Many recent epidemiological and experimental studies have implicated dietary factors in the causation and prevention of chronic diseases, including cancer and cardiovascular diseases. Recent dietary guidelines recommend increased intake of plant foods in combating the incidence of cancer. Plant foods contain, in addition to the traditional macro-nutrients and dietary fiber, a wide variety of biologically active micro-nutrients - the phytochemicals, which are thought to be responsible for their beneficial properties. Saponins are one such group of phytochemicals having strong surfactant properties. The major dietary source of saponins are legumes, especially soybeans. Although the majority of investigations to date have studied saponins from medicinal plants, we have focused our research towards understanding the role of dietary saponins with special emphasis on soybean saponins in cancer prevention. On the basis of recent experimental investigations, saponins are claimed to have hypocholesterolemic, immunostimulatory and anticarcinogenic properties. Several in vitro and in vivo studies have recently been reported in the literature that support anticarcinogenic properties of saponins. The proposed mechanisms of anticarcinogenic properties of saponins include antioxidant effect, direct and select cytotoxicity of cancer cells, immune-modulation, acid and neutral sterol metabolism and regulation of cell proliferation. Among the chemical properties of saponins, their polarity, hydophobicity and nature of the reactive groups seem important determinants of their biological properties. Recent studies in our laboratory have indicated that dietary sources of saponins such as the soybean saponins offer a preferential chemopreventive strategy in lowering the risk of human cancers.
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