Dietary intake fundamentally provides reintegration of energy and essential nutrients to human organisms. However, its qualitative and quantitative composition strongly affects an individual's health, possibly being either a preventive or a risk factor. It was shown that nutritional status resulting from long-term exposition to specific diet formulations can outstandingly reduce incidences of most common and most important diseases of the developed world, such as cardiovascular and neoplastic diseases. Diet formulations result from different food combinations which bring specific nutrient molecules. Numerous molecules, mostly but not exclusively from vegetal foods, have been characterized among nutritional components as being particularly responsible for diet capabilities to exert risk reduction. These "bioactive nutrients" are able to produce effects which go beyond basic reintegration tasks, i.e. energetic and/or structural, but are specifically pharmacologically active within pathophysiological pathways related to many diseases, being able to selectively affect processes such as cell proliferation, apoptosis, inflammation, differentiation, angiogenesis, DNA repair and carcinogens activation.
The present review was aimed to know the molecular mechanisms and pathways of activity of bioactive molecules; which will firstly allow a search for optimal food composition and intake, and then use them as possible therapeutical targets and/or diagnostics. Also, the present review discussed the therapeutic effect of both nutrients and phytochemicals.