Hydroxytyrosol excretion differs between rats and humans and depends on the vehicle of administration

J Nutr. 2003 Aug;133(8):2612-5. doi: 10.1093/jn/133.8.2612.


Interest in the in vivo biological activities of olive oil phenolics is rapidly growing, and different models and vehicles of administration are used worldwide. Matters of practicality determine the use of rats rather than humans as the model of choice. Also, growing interest in nutraceuticals is leading to the formulation of compounds containing olive oil phenols. In this study, we compared metabolism and urinary excretion of hydroxytyrosol [(HT), the most representative phenol of olive oil] between rats and humans by evaluating excretion of HT and its major metabolite, homovanillyl alcohol. Also, we compared human excretion of HT when consumed as a natural component of extra virgin olive oil, when added to refined olive oil, or when added to yogurt (as an approximation of functional food). Urinary excretion of HT was greater in humans than in rats, a species with a high basal excretion of HT and its metabolites. The high (234% of HT administered) excretion of free HT suggests that hydrolysis of oleuropein administered in humans (still an unresolved issue) occurs in vivo. Moreover, human HT excretion was much higher after its administration as a natural component of olive oil (44.2% of HT administered) than after its addition to refined olive oil (23% of HT administered) or yogurt (5.8% of dose or approximately 13% of that recorded after virgin olive oil intake). These data suggest that the rat is not the appropriate model for the study of HT metabolism and that HT-containing functional foods should be carefully formulated.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Antioxidants / metabolism*
  • Drug Combinations
  • Humans
  • Hydrolysis
  • Iridoid Glucosides
  • Iridoids
  • Olive Oil
  • Pharmaceutical Vehicles / pharmacology*
  • Phenylethyl Alcohol / administration & dosage
  • Phenylethyl Alcohol / analogs & derivatives*
  • Phenylethyl Alcohol / urine*
  • Plant Oils / chemistry
  • Plant Oils / pharmacology
  • Pyrans / metabolism
  • Rats / urine*
  • Species Specificity
  • Yogurt


  • Antioxidants
  • Drug Combinations
  • Iridoid Glucosides
  • Iridoids
  • Olive Oil
  • Pharmaceutical Vehicles
  • Plant Oils
  • Pyrans
  • 3,4-dihydroxyphenylethanol
  • oleuropein
  • Phenylethyl Alcohol