Alkaloids in the human food chain - Natural occurrence and possible adverse effects
Alkaloid-containing plants are an intrinsic part of the regular Western diet. The present paper summarizes the occurrence of alkaloids in the food chain, their mode of action and possible adverse effects including a safety assessment. Pyrrolizidine alkaloids are a reason for concern because of their bioactivation to reactive alkylating intermediates. Several quinolizidine alkaloids, beta-carboline alkaloids, ergot alkaloids and steroid alkaloids are active without bioactivation and mostly act as neurotoxins. Regulatory agencies are aware of the risks and have taken or are considering appropriate regulatory actions for most alkaloids. These vary from setting limits for the presence of a compound in feed, foods and beverages, trying to define safe upper limits, advising on a strategy aiming at restrictions in use, informing the public to be cautious or taking specific plant varieties from the market. For some alkaloids known to be present in the modern food chain, e.g. piperine, nicotine, theobromine, theophylline and tropane alkaloids risks coming from the human food chain are considered to be low if not negligible. Remarkably, for many alkaloids that are known constituents of the modern food chain and of possible concern, tolerable daily intake values have so far not been defined.