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International Journal of Botany and Research (IJBR) ISSN 2277-4815 Vol. 3, Issue 3, Aug 2013, 1-14 © TJPRC Pvt. Ltd.


ABSTRACT Free radicals and other reactive species have attracted attention to mitigate abiotic or biotic stress in recent years. These are mainly derived from reactive oxygen species as well as reactive nitrogen species. The scientific studies in human have described links of various metabolic pathway produced by-products acting as free radicals and other reactive species. The free radicals could damage biomolecules and resulting for severe diseases. The organisms have several defence mechanism to neutralize the effect of free radicals by synthesizing enzymes and vitamins. Spices and herbs have been used as condiments and traditional medicines since ancient time, however in recent studies have established about the presence of many bioactive components in spices and herbs that possess pharmacological and biochemical activities. Therefore spices and herbs in regular diet may improve to health and lower the risk of many diseases. This review explores the central actions of bioactive components of spices and herbs.

KEYWORDS: Reactive Oxygen Species, Diseases, Food, Natural Antioxidants, Spices INTRODUCTION About 5% or more inhaled oxygen is converted to reactive oxygen species. Since past decades, it became obvious that reactive oxygen species exert deleterious effects on human health under certain conditions. Antioxidants neutralize the harmful effects of free radicals and that may prevent body from invading the various diseases. Recent studies in the field of free radicals and antioxidants have provided a new age for management of health against several diseases. Free Radicals The free radicals are comprised into reactive oxygen species and reactive nitrogen species produced as by-product in various metabolic processes (for example aerobic respiration in mitochondria, destruction of pathogen infected cells by phagocytes, degradation of fatty acid by peroxisomes and p 450 mediated degradation of toxins) of living beings. Various environmental factors, xenobiotics, and anthropogenic sources alter biological activities of organisms causing production of reactive oxygen species in the body (Halliwell, 1994; Wong et al., 2000). Excess production of reactive oxygen species (hydroxyl radical, superoxide radical, peroxyl radical and hydrogen peroxide) above the normal physiological levels could damage bio molecules (lipids, proteins, enzymes, and nucleic acid) (Chen et al., 2005) which may lead to number of diseases such as cancer, aging, cardiovascular disease, Alzheimer disease, brain dysfunction and rheumatoid arthritis etc. (Langseth, 1993; Halliwell, 1994). Antioxidants Antioxidants are the substances that present naturally in plants and animal and protect the cell from harmful effects of free radicals (Bjelakovic et al., 2007). Antioxidants work as scavenger for free radicals and inhibit their excessive production in organisms (Niwa et al., 2001).


Divya Singh, Tara Chandra Ram, Akhileshwar Kumar Srivastava &Bijoy Krishna Roy

Antioxidants are classified into two groups (Kahl and Kappus, 1993): 

Natural antioxidants

Synthetic antioxidants Natural antioxidants like vitamin E (tochopherols and tocotrie-nols), vitamin C (ascorbic acid), carotenoids and

polyphenols are generally found in fruits and vegetables. Vitamin E included tocopherols and tocotrienols, in which αtocopherol has been most studied. Functionally, α-tocopherol is more active which quenches singlet oxygen and also acts against peroxyl radicals (Rietjens et al., 2002). Vitamin C is a well known natural antioxidant which has reactive oxygen species scavenging activity due to presence of enediol group (Kim and Lee, 2004). More than 700 naturally occurring carotenoids have been reported from plants that act as antioxidant (Rietjens et al., 2002). Flavonoids, stilbenes, phenolic acids and lignans are the most abundantly occurring polyphenols in plants (Escarpa and Gonzalez, 2001). However, flavonoids scavenge of free radicals species and also act as powerful metal chelators (Amić et al., 2003). Some natural and synthetic antioxidants are being presented with their structural formula as in Fig .1 and Fig. 2. Many synthetic antioxidants have been used in a wide variety of food products and cosmetics. Nonetheless, Butylatedhydroxytoluene (BHT), butylatedhydroxyanisol (BHA), propylgallate (PG), tertiary butyl hydroquinone (TBHQ), 2,4,5-trihydroxybutyrophenone






nordihydroguaiaretic acid (NDGA) and 4-hexylresorcinol (4HR) are more common. The use of excess synthetic antioxidants in foods might produce toxicities and mutagenicities, and thus harmful for health (Xiu-Quin et al., 2009). However, wide varieties of natural antioxidants have different properties like their constituents, mechanisms of action and site of target (Jacob and Michael, 1999). Some main categories of natural antioxidative enzymes are being described below: 

Enzymes: It is a natural gift to plants and animals to synthesize proteins, enzymes and secondary metabolites. Like enzymes activity, also several antioxidants acting as biocatalysts in metabolic pathways are referred as antioxidative enzymes like catalase (CAT), glutathione peroxidase (GPx), superoxide dismutase (SOD) etc. transfer reactive oxygen species and reactive nitrogen species into stable compounds (Tiwari, 2001).

High molecular weight compounds: Albumin, transferin, ceruplasmin come under this category which prevent the production of metals catalyzed by free radicals (Bostwick et al., 2000).

Low molecular weight compounds: These can be subdivided into two categories: water soluble antioxidants and lipid soluble antioxidants. Water soluble antioxidants include ascorbic acid, uric acid and some polyphenols and lipid soluble antioxidants are tocopherol, quinines, carotenoids, bilirubin and some polyphenols (Halliwell, 1991).

Minerals: Minerals or micronutrients like manganese, copper, zinc and selenium etc. have been well recognised for antioxidative properties (Shirwaikar et al., 2004).

Vitamins: Vitamin A, C and E are well known stable antioxidants which play important role in minimizing the risk of damage in the biological system from peroxidation (Fogliano et al., 1999; Mantena et al., 2003).

Plants antioxidants: Vegetables, fruits and medicinal plants are the main sources of natural antioxidants (Ali et al., 2008). Recently, a great deal of interest has been developed by consumers towards novel spices and herbs for good sources of natural antioxidants, some of which have been reviewed and discussed here (Tsai et al., 2005).

Free Radicals, Antioxidants and Culinary Spices: In Human Health and Disease Response


Mechanism of Action of Antioxidants Mainly two types of mechanism of action have been proposed for antioxidants. The first mechanism is chain breaking by which primary antioxidant neutralizes free radicals by donating an electron to it. The second preventive mechanism involves removal of ROS/RNS initiators (secondary antioxidants) by quenching chain initiation step (Krinsky, 1992). Level of Antioxidant Action Antioxidants, capable to neutralize free radicals act at different levels of defence such as preventive, radical scavenging, repair and adaptation. First line defence consists of superoxide dismutase, catalase, glutathione reductase, glutathione peroxidase, selenoprotein, transferrin, lactoferrin, ferritin some minerals Mn, Zn, Cu, Se and non-enzymatic proteins etc. which are considered as preventive antioxidants and restrict the formation of free radicals. Superoxide dismutase converts superoxide radical (O-2) to hydrogen peroxide (H2O2). The breakdown of hydrogen peroxide (H2O2) to water (H2O) and oxygen (O2) is catalyzed by catalase. Glutathion peroxidase is a selenium dependent enzyme which detoxifies lipid hydro peroxides to alcohols. The cytosolic superoxide dismutase is a Cu containing enzyme which removes superoxide radicals from cytosol. Selenium is an essential element for removal of peroxide from cytosol and cell membrane. Zinc is a component of several enzymes like alcohol dehydrogenase, carbonic anhydrase, alkaline phosphatase, cytosolic superoxide dismutase etc and also play important role in growth and reproduction. Second line defence include glutathion (GSH), vitamin E, vitamin C, uric acid, bilirubin, albumin, carotenoids, flavonoids etc. have radical scavenging activity. Glutathion scavenges reactive oxygen species like lipid peroxyl radical, peroxynitrite and hydrogen peroxide. It also helps in the detoxification of inhaled oxidizing air pollutants. Vitamin E protects poly unsaturated fatty acid (PUFA) and low density lipoprotein by scavenging peroxyl radical intermediates which are generated in lipid peroxidation reactions. It prevents coronary heart disease and atherosclerosis. Vitamin C quenches radicals like singlet oxygen, superoxide radical, hydroxyl radical. β-carotene is helpful in removal of singlet oxygen. Flavonoids inhibit lipoxygenases and lipid peroxidation. Third line defence comprises group of enzymes required for repairing mechanism of damaged DNA, proteins, lipids. These enzymes are capable to stop chain propagation of peroxyl lipid radical. e.g. DNA repair enzymes, protease, lipase, transferase, methionine sulphoxide reductase etc. Fourth line defence is an adaptation where immunology plays important role in production and reaction of free radicals with appropriate antioxidants (Escarpa and Gonzalez, 2001., Nichenametla et al., 2006). Spices as Antioxidants It has been reported that balance loss between production of reactive oxygen species and antioxidative defence system resulting into oxidative stress leads to various hazardous diseases such as cancer, gastric ulcer and other conditions (Smith et al., 1992). Antioxidants prevent from deleterious effects of oxidative stress. In recent years, interest in the plant derived food additives has been increased to know their role in health promoting effects (Wang and Lin, 2000). The various metabolic products and its derivatives derived from spices and aromatic herbs were identified as an important antioxidants (Sabir and Rocha, 2008). A spice can be defined as a herbal plant, which specific parts provide colour and flavour along with stimulating odour used in culinary and condiments, as well as in cosmetics, fragrances and medications. These peculiar properties of herbs and spices have supported it to be applied to functional food for nutrients, bioactive


Divya Singh, Tara Chandra Ram, Akhileshwar Kumar Srivastava &Bijoy Krishna Roy

compounds, disease prevention and health promotion. The different plants parts used as spices are rhizomes, leaves, buds, flowers, fruits, seeds, secretary products and even bark of a tree (Williams, 1999). Since long periods, herbs have been used for nearly all medicinal therapy until in development of synthetic drugs. Spices influence on various body systems such as cardiovascular, gastrointestinal, reproductive and nervous systems (Kochhar, 2008). The antioxidant activity of spices was described by Chipault et al (1956) in different substrates. Previously it has been reported that the presence of phenolic compounds in spices also shown antioxidant properties for different substrates (Chipault et al., 1956). Some Specific Antioxidative Compounds in Spices Except some, common antioxidants present in all group of plants, in which some specific antioxidative compounds were reported in spices and aromatic herbs (Kulisic et al., 2004). Among them rosmadial, rosmanol, rosmaridiphenol, rosmariquinone, carnosol, carnosic acid and various ethyl and methyl esters of these compounds were reported in rosemary and sage; caffeic acid, protocatechuic acid, rosmarinic acid, a phenyl glycoside and 2-caffeoyloxy-3[2-(4-hydroxybenzyl)-4,5-dihydroxyphenyl] propionic acid in oregano (Pizzale et al., 2002) (Figure 3); eugenol, eugenyl acetate and gallates in clove (Lee and Shibamato, 2001); gingerol, zingerone and diarylheptanoids in ginger (Kikuzaki and Nakatani, 1993; Kikuzaki et al., 1994); thymol, carvacrol and p-cumene-2,3-diol in thyme (Schwarz et al., 1996) (Figure 4); curcumin and its derivatives in turmeric (Masuda et al., 1999) (Figure 5); apigenin, camphene and terpinolene in coriander (Rajeshwari and Andallu, 2011); piperine, ferulic acid, phenolic amide feruperine in black pepper (Nakatani et al., 1986) (Figure 4). Rosmarinic acid is a dominant compound in herbs of family Labiateae with four hydroxyl groups (catechol structures) in the structure, are responsible for antioxidative property. Caffeic acid, carnasoic acid and gallic acid are also present in these herbs and possess antioxidant activity because of catechol structures (Cuvelier et al., 1996). Eugenol and its derivatives contain a phenolic group in the structure have relatively lower antioxidant activity than other phenolics with more hydroxyl groups. The phenolic group plays important role in free radical scavenging activity of eugenol (Lee and Shibamoto, 2001). Eugenol, cuminaldehyde, curcumin, piperine, zingerone and linalool have been reported as effective antioxidants. These compounds inhibit lipid peroxidation mainly by two ways 1. By quenching free radicals and 2. By increasing activity of endogenous antioxidative enzymes (catalase, superoxide dismutase, glutathion transferase and glutathion peroxidase). Eugenol and curcumin can inhibit lipid peroxidation at lower concentrations while zingerone is effective for the same process at high concentrations. On other hand, linalool and cuminaldehyde may have marginal effects on peroxidation even at very high concentrations (Reddy and Lokesh, 1992, 1994). The structures of antioxidative compounds are demonstrated in Figure 3-5. Oil Chemistry An essential oil in herbs and spices demonstrated fruitful to biological activities, the major components of essential oil were identified as polyphenols, terpenes, monoterpenes and sesquiterpenes (Kulisic et al., 2004). A list of major essential oil components of some known spices are being presented in Table 1. Among the constituents of essential oils, eugenol, carvacrol, thymol and 4-allylphenol can exhibit potent antioxidative activities. Linalool, estragol, methylsalicylate, 1,8-cineole, benzylaldehyde and 4-terpineol are reported for their slight antioxidant activity at a level of 50 µg/ml (Lee et al., 2005). γ-Terpinene retards lipid peroxidation. The typical chain reactions are involved in peroxidation of linoleyl acid in which linoleyl hydroperoxides are formed after transferring of chain by linoleyl peroxyl radicals. γ-Terpinene may retard linoleic acid peroxidation by rapid cross-reaction between linoleyl peroxyl radicals and hydroperoxyl radicals in the chain reaction of peroxidation (Foti and Ingold, 2003 ).

Free Radicals, Antioxidants and Culinary Spices: In Human Health and Disease Response


Therapeutic Importance of Spices Essential oils extracted from rosemary, sage and thyme were shown to inhibit osteoclast activity in bone as well as increase bone density in vitro condition (Putnam et al., 2007). Atsumi and Tonosaki (2007) found that essential oils of lavender and rosemary decrease level of stress hormone like cortisol and protect body from oxidative stress. Functionally ethanol extract of rosemary delayed in oxidation of lipid fraction of minced meat ball during storage in the freezer (Karpinska et al., 2000). In a study antioxidant activities of crude hot water extract of 13 spices (clove, thyme, rosemary, savory, oregano, basil, cumin, caraway, coriander, marjoram, turmeric, mace, fennel) were compared and found clove, thyme, and rosemary exhibited higher DPPH radical scavenging activity. Whereas extracts of marjoram, rosemary, and oregano were found to have higher superoxide radical scavenging activity differ from extracts of turmeric and mace have higher hydroxyl radical scavenging activity. The total phenolic and flavonoid contents in clove and turmeric was highest among these spices (Kim et al., 2011). The carcinogens activities of benzo(a)pyrene [B(a)P] induced forestomach tumorigenesis in stomach and 3methylcholanthrene (MCA) uterine cervix tumorigenesis in cervices were inhibited by different doses of cumin seed with mixed diet (Gagandeep et al., 2003). Cardioprotective effect of fenugreek on antioxidative defence system and lipid peroxidation was observed in isoproterenol-induced mycocardial infractions in rats. The reason was explained that fenugreek significantly decreased thiobarbituric acid reactive substances (TBARS) in rats and enhanced the antioxidant status (Murugesan et al., 2011). Gastroprotective activity of coriander has been shown in case of gastric mucosal injuries caused by NaCl, NaOH, ethanol, and indomethacin due to activities of antioxidative components (linanool, catechins, coumarins, terpines, and polyphenolic compounds) present in it (Al-Mofleh et al., 2006). A study was conducted to test effect of ajowain extract on hexachlorocyclohexane (HCH) induced oxidative stress and toxicity in rats. Pre-feeding of ajowain extract to rats enhanced the activity of antioxidative enzymes and showed decrease in hepatic level of lipid peroxides. It was concluded that ajowain extract could reduce toxic and oxidative effects of HCH (Anila et al., 2009). Pradhan et al (2008) examined and reported the cytoprotection activity of methanolic extract of Foeniculum vulgare and Helicteres isora against normal human blood lymphocytes. The culture of lymphocytes treated with 70% methanolic extract of Foeniculum vulgare and 50% methanolic extract of Helicteres isora showed three times less micronucleus as compared to widely used standard drug doxorubicin (Pradhan et al., 2008). Biochemically it has been investigated that saffron have modulatory effects on some phase II detoxifying enzymes (GST, GPx, CAT, and SOD) in mice which were induced by 7-12 dimethyl benzy[a]anthracin (DMBA) and promoted with croton oil (Das et al., 2004). In another experiment use of black pepper expressed same kind of role to detoxify of enzymes in rats fed a high fat diet (Vijayakumar et al., 2004). Therapeutic role and antioxidative effects of curcumin was examined after oral administration of curcumin to rats in exposed to mercury. Curcumin was found to have protective effect on lipid peroxidation, glutathion levels, superoxide dismutase, glutathion peroxidase and catalase activities in the liver, kidney and brain (Agrawal et al., 2010). In a study, nhexane extract of curcumin showed cytotoxic and telomerase inhibitory effect on cell line A549 and could be appropriate source for developing drugs against lung cancer (Mohammad et al., 2010).


Divya Singh, Tara Chandra Ram, Akhileshwar Kumar Srivastava &Bijoy Krishna Roy

The crude methanolic extracts and its fraction of Amomum subulatum and Elettaria cardamomum, viz. essential oil, petroleum ether and ethyl acetate inhibited gastric lesions induced by ethanol, but not those that were induced by pylorus ligation and aspirin (Jafri et al., 2001; Jamal et al., 2006). Overall it can be concluded that on the basis of all reports that spices have crucial therapeutic properties and antioxidant activity so it can be useful for food preservation and reduction of peroxidation in biological systems.

CONCLUSIONS The increasing health consciousness has been one of the most important stimulation factors for spices production and herbs products. Herein, sources of spices and herbs products have received much attention since a large number of phytochemicals and bioactive components present in spices and herbs. Notably, phytochemicals present in spices and herbs have been evidenced to play a vital role in human health and nutrition due to their numerous biological activities and health benefit effects. Reactive oxygen species are continuously produced inside our body due to many endogenous and exogenous factors. They can damage cellular biomolecules, resulting into several types of diseases. This becoming a burning problem and it is necessary to find out alternatives to protect tissues and organs against oxidative damage induced by free radicals. Many approaches were made in this direction and significant results have come in light. Traditional spices, herbs and medicinal plants are rich sources of natural antioxidants. The antioxidant activity of spices and herbs may help in inhibiting the lipid peroxidation. As several diseases and age related disorders are closely related to oxidative process in the body so the use of spices and herbs in regular diet may be effective in reducing the risk of diseases. Spices and herbs are rich with different types of chemical constituents and possess remarkable antioxidant activity. Antioxidant activity is not restricted to particular part or in the specific families. The presence of curcumin in rhizome and monoterpine hydrocarbon may inhibit the replication of DNA and disturb the bonding of DNA, which is thought to stop the formation of cancerous tissues. All herbs and spices discussed in this review have clinical and medicinal activity with very less side effects, but since they are ingested continuously in certain amount as part of diet, they may have a remarkable long-term physiological effect. Therefore it is necessary to standardize the doses which are crucial in treatment for mankind.


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Figure 1: Chemical Structures of Some Natural Antioxidants

Figure 2: Chemical Structures of Some Synthetic Antioxidants

Free Radicals, Antioxidants and Culinary Spices: In Human Health and Disease Response

Figure 3: Formulae of Antioxidative Compounds Isolated from Rosemary and Sage (16-21), Thyme (22-24) and Oregano (25-29) (Yanishlieva et al., 2006)

Figure 4: Formulae of Antioxidative Compounds Isolated from Clove (30-32), Ginger (33-34) and Black Pepper (35-39) (Yanishlieva et al., 2006; Mann, 2011)



Divya Singh, Tara Chandra Ram, Akhileshwar Kumar Srivastava &Bijoy Krishna Roy

Figure 5: Formulae of Antioxidative Compounds Isolated from Turmeric (Yanishlieva et al., 2006)

Table 1: A Brief Description of Common Spices and Herbs Acorus calamus

Botanical Name

Sweet flag

Common/English Name




Part Used

Alpinia galanga Amomum subulatum Anethum graveolens

Greater galanga



Major Components of Essential Oil β-asarone, isocalamendol, sesquestrine ketones, α-asarone, eugenol, monoterpine hydrocarbons 1,8-cineole, α-fenchyl acetate, camphor

Large cardamom



1,8-cineole, limonene, monoterpene hydrocarbon




Carvone, limonene, α-phellandrene

Apium graveolens



Arial parts

Carum carvy Cinnamomum tamala Coriandrum sativum










Linalool, cis-dihydrocavone, thymol

Crocus sativus




Safranal, crocin, picrocin, crocetin

Cuminum cyminum




Cumin aldehyde, γ-terpinene , β-pinene

Curcuma longa




ar-tumerone, α-tumerone, β-tumerone, (Z)-β-ocimene

Elettaria cardamomum




1,8-cineole, α-terpinyl

Leela et al., 2008

Ferula asafoetida



Oleo gum resin

(Z)-1-propenyl sec-butyl disulfide, (E)-1-propenyl sec-butyl disulfide, α-pinene

Sadraei et al., 2003

Foeniculum vulgare




Trans anethole, fenchone, methyl chavicol

Gulfraz et al., 2008

Murraya koenigii

Curry leaves



3-carene, caryophyllene, β-myrcene

Chowadhury et al., 2008

Pimpinella anisum




Trans-anethole, estragole

Gulcin et al., 2003 Liu et al., 2007

α-pinene, β-pinene, limonene, γ-terpinene, allo-ocimene, myrcene, senkyunolide R-carvone, D-limonene, α-pinene, cis-carveol, β-myrcene Eugenol, β-caryophyllene, aomadendrene, viridiflorene, δcadinene, spathulenol, sesquiterpenoid

Piper longum

Long pepper



Piper nigrum Syzigium aromaticum Trachyspermum ammi Trigonella foenum-graecum Zingiber officinale

Black pepper



β-caryophyllene, 3-carene, eugenol, D-limonene, zingiberene, cubenol β-caryophyllene, 3-carene, D-limonene, β-pinene, α-pinene




Eugenol, β-caryophyllene, eugenyl acetate










p-cymene, γ-terpinenine, α-pinenes, β-pinenes, dipentene, α-terpinene, terpinene-4-ol Palmidrol, octanamide n-(2-hydroxyethyl), dioctyl phthalate, d-limonene, 1-carvone, o-cymene, γ-terpinene Zingiberene, β-sesquiphellendrene, α-curcumene, farnasene, sesquiterpene alcohols

References Mazza, 1985 Jirovetz et al, 2003 Patra et al., 1982; Pruthi, 1993 Ishikawa et al., 2002 Saleh et al., 1985 Fang et al., 2010 Kapoor et al., 2009 Msaada et al., 2007; Pande et al., 2010 Rios et al., 1996; Abdullaev, 1993 Iacobellis et al., 2005 Awasthi and Dixit, 2009

Liu et al., 2007 Srivastava et al., 2005 Chopra, 1982; Singh et al., 2004 Pande, 2011 Kizhakkayil and Sasikumar, 2012


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