Worldwide, colorectal cancer (CRC) remains a major cancer type and leading cause of death. Unfortunately, current medical treatments are not sufficient due to lack of effective therapy, adverse side effects, chemoresistance and disease recurrence. In recent decades, epidemiologic observations have highlighted the association between the ingestion of several phytochemical-enriched foods and nutrients and the lower risk of CRC. According to preclinical studies, dietary phytochemicals exert chemopreventive effects on CRC by regulating different markers and signaling pathways; additionally, the gut microbiota plays a role as vital effector in CRC onset and progression, therefore, any dietary alterations in it may affect CRC occurrence. A high number of studies have displayed a key role of growth factors and their signaling pathways in the pathogenesis of CRC. Indeed, the efficiency of dietary phytochemicals to modulate carcinogenic processes through the alteration of different molecular targets, such as Wnt/β-catenin, PI3K/Akt/mTOR, MAPK (p38, JNK and Erk1/2), EGFR/Kras/Braf, TGF-β/Smad2/3, STAT1-STAT3, NF-кB, Nrf2 and cyclin-CDK complexes, has been proven, whereby many of these targets also represent the backbone of modern drug discovery programs. Furthermore, epigenetic analysis showed modified or reversed aberrant epigenetic changes exerted by dietary phytochemicals that led to possible CRC prevention or treatment. Therefore, our aim is to discuss the effects of some common dietary phytochemicals that might be useful in CRC as preventive or therapeutic agents. This review will provide new guidance for research, in order to identify the most studied phytochemicals, their occurrence in foods and to evaluate the therapeutic potential of dietary phytochemicals for the prevention or treatment of CRC by targeting several genes and signaling pathways, as well as epigenetic modifications. In addition, the results obtained by recent investigations aimed at improving the production of these phytochemicals in genetically modified plants have been reported. Overall, clinical data on phytochemicals against CRC are still not sufficient and therefore the preventive impacts of dietary phytochemicals on CRC development deserve further research so as to provide additional insights for human prospective studies.
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