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Triterpenoids, containing more than 14,000 known compounds in the plant kingdom, are one of the largest groups of secondary metabolites. Biosynthesis of isoprene substrates yields over 100 different triterpene scaffolds, which are further modified to result in great structural diversity. For many plant species, these metabolites have been described as exhibiting highly generic bioactive functions. Potential includes antibacterial, antioxidant, anti-cancer and anti-allergic effects, making them attractive for agricultural and pharmaceutical applications.
Triterpenoids are widely distributed in edible and medicinal plants and are an integral part of the human diet. Amyrin isomers are the major compounds in tomato fruit wax and their amounts vary widely among varieties and subsequent stages of fruit development.
Centella asiatica is an active molecule from Centella asiatica (Umbelliferae) used in the treatment of skin diseases, and it is one of the most active healing compounds.
Oleanolane is a natural triterpenoid in the oleanolide family, consisting of pentacyclic triterpenoids (such as β-camptothecin and paclitaxel), all with a six-membered ring. It is commonly found in woody angiosperms and is therefore often used as an indicator of these plants in the fossil record. It is important to remember that contact with seawater during early deposition increases the concentration of oleanolane in mature sediments.
Ursolic acid is present in many plants and is the best known triterpene of the ursolidine group. It is found in thyme, rosemary, sage, lavender and eucalyptus, containing more than 1 gram per 100 grams dry weight. It is found in high levels in coffee seeds and in apple fruit (mainly apple peel) and loquat (Eriobotrya japonica) fruit. It is used in cosmetics as an anti-inflammatory, antibacterial and antifungal agent.
Oleanolic acid is a compound very similar to ursolic acid and is widely distributed in food and medicinal plants. It has hepatoprotective properties and has antitumor and antiviral properties. It is a major component of the epidermal wax of grape berries. Its presence may be the source of numerous health benefits, including the prevention of heart disease, which is attributed to moderate wine consumption. Oleanolic acid and another parent compound, hawthornic acid, are concentrated in the olive cuticle wax, accounting for 31-44% and 55-68% of the total wax extract, respectively. These compounds may be associated with many health-promoting properties, such as anti-cancer, anti-hyperglycemic and anti-parasitic activity.
Triterpenoids are used for medicinal purposes in many Asian countries for their anti-inflammatory, analgesic, antipyretic, hepatoprotective, cardiotonic, sedative and tonic effects. Recent studies have not only confirmed some of the pharmacological properties of several of the above mentioned triterpenoids, but also identified a variety of other biological activities, including antioxidant, antibacterial, antiviral, antiallergic, antipruritic, anti-angiogenic and antispasmodic activities.
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