Recent developments in biomarkers relating to the interrelationship of diet, disease and health were surveyed. Most emphasis was placed on biomarkers of deleterious effects, since these are of greatest relevance to the subject of this review. The area of greatest activity was found to be that relating to biomarkers of mutagenic, genotoxic and carcinogenic effects. This is also one of the major areas of concern in considerations of the beneficial and deleterious effects of dietary components, and also the area in which regulatory testing requires studies of the longest duration. A degree of progress has also been made in the identification and development of biomarkers relating to certain classes of target organ toxicity. Biomarkers for other types of toxicity, such as immunotoxicity, neurotoxicity, reproductive toxicity and developmental toxicity, are less developed, and further investigation in these areas is required before a comprehensive biomarker strategy can be established. A criticism that recurs constantly in the biomarker literature is the lack of standardisation in the methods used, and the lack of reference standards for the purposes of validation and quality control. It is encouraging to note the growing acknowledgement of the need for validation of biomarkers and biomarker assays. Some validation studies have already been initiated. This review puts forward proposals for criteria to be used in biomarker validation. More discussion on this subject is required. It is concluded that the use of biomarkers can, in some cases, facilitate the implementation of the Three Rs with respect to the testing of food chemicals and studies on the effects of diet on health. The greatest potential is seen to be in the refinement of animal testing, in which biomarkers could serve as early and sensitive endpoints, in order to reduce the duration of the studies and also reduce the number of animals required. Biomarkers could also contribute to establishing a mechanistic basis for in vitro test systems and to facilitating their validation and acceptance. Finally, the increased information that could result from the incorporation of biomarker determinations into population studies could reduce the need for supplementary animal studies. This review makes a number of recommendations concerning the prioritisation of future activities on dietary biomarkers in relation to the Three Rs. It is emphasised, however, that further discussions will be required among toxicologists, epidemiologists and others researching the relationship between diet and health.
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