The Metabolism of Polyphenols by the Human Gut Microbiota

Max Bingham

Unilever Research and Development, Vlaardingen, The Netherlands SUMMARY

Polyphenols are considered to be key active constituents of fruits and vegetables and responsible for many of the health protective effects of diets rich in these foods. While their structure varies considerably, following ingestion, most (~ 95%) persist to the colon where they encounter the human gut microbiota. Here they may undergo considerable structural alteration to compounds that may have enhanced biological properties or possibly degraded into inert metabolites and excreted. As such, the human gut microbiota may have a significant influence on the final outcomes of polyphenol ingestion. Moreover, interindividual variation in the composition of the microbiota means that certain compounds are metabolized in different ways, and this is reflected in the considerable variability seen in excreted polyphenol metabolites. Consequently, polyphenols as active ingredients in functional foods may turn out to be beneficial for only a certain proportion of the population. Clearly, this may further have an impact on disease risk and health protection. This chapter considers the potential role of the human gut microbiota in polyphenol metabolism and highlights the level of current understanding of this process.

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