Human studies on the absorption, distribution, metabolism, and excretion of tea polyphenols

Am J Clin Nutr. 2013 Dec;98(6 Suppl):1619S-1630S. doi: 10.3945/ajcn.113.058958. Epub 2013 Oct 30.


Recent research on the bioavailability of flavan-3-ols after ingestion of green tea by humans is reviewed. Glucuronide, sulfate, and methyl metabolites of (epi)catechin and (epi)gallocatechin glucuronide reach peak nanomolar per liter plasma concentrations 1.6-2.3 h after intake, indicating absorption in the small intestine. The concentrations then decline, and only trace amounts remain 8 h after ingestion. Urinary excretion of metabolites over a 24-h period after green tea consumption corresponded to 28.5% of the ingested (epi)catechin and 11.4% of (epi)gallocatechin, suggesting higher absorption than that of most other flavonoids. The fate of (-)-epicatechin-3-O-gallate, the main flavan-3-ol in green tea, is unclear because it appears unmetabolized in low concentrations in plasma but is not excreted in urine. Possible enterohepatic recirculation of flavan-3-ols is discussed along with the impact of dose and other food components on flavan-3-ol bioavailability. Approximately two-thirds of the ingested flavan-3-ols pass from the small to the large intestine where the action of the microbiota results in their conversion to C-6-C-5 phenylvalerolactones and phenylvaleric acids, which undergo side-chain shortening to produce C-6-C-1 phenolic and aromatic acids that enter the bloodstream and are excreted in urine in amounts equivalent to 36% of flavan-3-ol intake. Some of these colon-derived catabolites may have a role in vivo in the potential protective effects of tea consumption. Although black tea, which contains theaflavins and thearubigins, is widely consumed in the Western world, there is surprisingly little research on the absorption and metabolism of these compounds after ingestion and their potential impact on health.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Camellia sinensis / chemistry*
  • Catechin / metabolism
  • Catechin / pharmacokinetics*
  • Flavonoids / metabolism
  • Flavonoids / pharmacokinetics*
  • Humans
  • Intestinal Absorption
  • Intestine, Large / metabolism
  • Intestine, Large / microbiology
  • Liver / metabolism
  • Plant Extracts / metabolism
  • Plant Extracts / pharmacokinetics*
  • Polyphenols / metabolism
  • Polyphenols / pharmacokinetics*
  • Tea / chemistry*
  • Tissue Distribution


  • Flavonoids
  • Plant Extracts
  • Polyphenols
  • Tea
  • flavan-3-ol
  • Catechin