Many plant antioxidants, intaken through the daily diet or plant-derived dietary supplements, have been shown able to prevent free radical-related diseases by counteracting cell oxidative stress. However, it is now considered that the in vivo beneficial effects of these phytochemicals are unlikely to be explained just by their antioxidant capability. Several plant antioxidants exhibit hormetic properties, by acting as ‘low-dose stressors’ that may prepare cells to resist more severe stress. In fact, low doses of these phytochemicals activate cell signaling pathways (being the most prominent examples the modulation of the Nrf2/Keap1 pathway, the NF-κB pathway and the Sirtuin-FOXO pathway) but high doses are cytotoxic. Herein we review the adaptive responses induced by the most known plant hormetic antioxidants, which are sulforaphane, resveratrol, curcumin, flavonoids, green tea catechins and diallylsulphides, as well as the molecular mechanisms involved in such responses. Furthermore, this review outlines that the hormetic properties of these bioactive plant antioxidants might be successfully employed for realizing health-promoting dietary interventions especially in the field of neurodegenerative diseases and cancer.
Keywords: Adaptive response, cell signaling, health promotion, hormesis, human nutrition, plant antioxidants, reactive oxygen species, phytochemicals, biosynthetic pathways, radiation, toxic agents, infectious agents, cancer, cardiovascular diseases, neurodegenerative disorders