Factors affecting intake, metabolism and health benefits of phenolic acids: do we understand individual variability?

Eur J Nutr. 2020 Jun;59(4):1275-1293. doi: 10.1007/s00394-019-01987-6. Epub 2019 May 21.


Introduction: Phenolic acids are important phenolic compounds widespread in foods, contributing to nutritional and organoleptic properties.

Factors affceting individual variability: The bioavailability of these compounds depends on their free or conjugated presence in food matrices, which is also affected by food processing. Phenolic acids undergo metabolism by the host and residing intestinal microbiota, which causes conjugations and structural modifications of the compounds. Human responses, metabolite profiles and health responses of phenolics, show considerable individual variation, which is affected by absorption, metabolism and genetic variations of subjects.

Opinion: A better understanding of the gut-host interplay and microbiome biochemistry is becoming highly relevant in understanding the impact of diet and its constituents. It is common to study metabolism and health benefits separately, with some exceptions; however, it should be preferred that health responders and non-responders are studied in combination with explanatory metabolite profiles and gene variants. This approach could turn interindividual variation from a problem in human research to an asset for research on personalized nutrition.

Keywords: Bioactivity; Bioavailability; Colonic metabolites; Interindividual variability; Phenolic acids.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Biological Availability
  • Diet / methods*
  • Food Handling / methods
  • Gastrointestinal Microbiome
  • Humans
  • Hydroxybenzoates / administration & dosage
  • Hydroxybenzoates / metabolism*
  • Hydroxybenzoates / pharmacology*
  • Intestinal Mucosa / metabolism


  • Hydroxybenzoates
  • phenolic acid