A metabolite profiling approach to identify biomarkers of flavonoid intake in humans

J Nutr. 2009 Dec;139(12):2309-14. doi: 10.3945/jn.109.113613. Epub 2009 Oct 7.


Flavonoids are phytochemicals that are widespread in the human diet. Despite limitations in their bioavailability, experimental and epidemiological data suggest health benefits of flavonoid consumption. Valid biomarkers of flavonoid intake may be useful for estimating exposure in a range of settings. However, to date, few useful flavonoid biomarkers have been identified. In this study, we used a metabolite profiling approach to examine the aromatic and phenolic profile of plasma and urine of healthy men after oral consumption of 200 mg of the pure flavonoids, quercetin, (-)-epicatechin, and epigallocatechin gallate, which represent major flavonoid constituents in the diet. Following enzymatic hydrolysis, 71 aromatic compounds were quantified in plasma and urine at 2 and 5 h, respectively, after flavonoid ingestion. Plasma concentrations of different aromatic compounds ranged widely, from 0.01 to 10 micromol/L, with variation among volunteers. None of the aromatic compounds was significantly elevated in plasma 2 h after consumption of either flavonoid compared with water placebo. This indicates that flavonoid-derived aromatic compounds are not responsible for the acute physiological effects reported within 2 h in previous human intervention studies involving flavonoids or flavonoid-rich food consumption. These effects are more likely due to absorption of the intact flavonoid. Our urine analysis suggested that urinary 4-ethylphenol, benzoic acid, and 4-ethylbenzoic acid may be potential biomarkers of quercetin intake and 1,3,5-trimethoxybenzene, 4-O-methylgallic acid, 3-O-methylgallic acid, and gallic acid may be potential markers of epigallocatechin gallate intake. Potential biomarkers of (-)-epicatechin were not identified. These urinary biomarkers may provide an accurate indication of flavonoid exposure.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Biomarkers / blood*
  • Biomarkers / urine
  • Body Mass Index
  • Catechin / analogs & derivatives
  • Catechin / blood
  • Catechin / pharmacology
  • Catechin / urine
  • Flavonoids / blood
  • Flavonoids / pharmacology*
  • Flavonoids / urine
  • Gas Chromatography-Mass Spectrometry
  • Humans
  • Kinetics
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Nitrates / blood
  • Nitrates / urine
  • Nitrites / blood
  • Nitrites / urine
  • Phenols / blood
  • Phenols / chemistry
  • Quercetin / blood
  • Quercetin / pharmacology
  • Quercetin / urine
  • Time Factors


  • Biomarkers
  • Flavonoids
  • Nitrates
  • Nitrites
  • Phenols
  • Catechin
  • Quercetin
  • epigallocatechin gallate