Metabolic fate of polyphenols in the human superorganism

Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2011 Mar 15;108 Suppl 1(Suppl 1):4531-8. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1000098107. Epub 2010 Jun 25.


Dietary polyphenols are components of many foods such as tea, fruit, and vegetables and are associated with several beneficial health effects although, so far, largely based on epidemiological studies. The intact forms of complex dietary polyphenols have limited bioavailability, with low circulating levels in plasma. A major part of the polyphenols persists in the colon, where the resident microbiota produce metabolites that can undergo further metabolism upon entering systemic circulation. Unraveling the complex metabolic fate of polyphenols in this human superorganism requires joint deployment of in vitro and humanized mouse models and human intervention trials. Within these systems, the variation in diversity and functionality of the colonic microbiota can increasingly be captured by rapidly developing microbiomics and metabolomics technologies. Furthermore, metabolomics is coming to grips with the large biological variation superimposed on relatively subtle effects of dietary interventions. In particular when metabolomics is deployed in conjunction with a longitudinal study design, quantitative nutrikinetic signatures can be obtained. These signatures can be used to define nutritional phenotypes with different kinetic characteristics for the bioconversion capacity for polyphenols. Bottom-up as well as top-down approaches need to be pursued to link gut microbial diversity to functionality in nutritional phenotypes and, ultimately, to bioactivity of polyphenols. This approach will pave the way for personalization of nutrition based on gut microbial functionality of individuals or populations.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Bacteria / metabolism*
  • Biological Availability
  • Colon / microbiology*
  • Diet*
  • Flavonoids / administration & dosage
  • Flavonoids / blood
  • Flavonoids / metabolism*
  • Humans
  • Metabolomics*
  • Metagenome / genetics*
  • Mice
  • Models, Biological*
  • Phenols / administration & dosage
  • Phenols / blood
  • Phenols / metabolism*
  • Polyphenols


  • Flavonoids
  • Phenols
  • Polyphenols