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Biomed Pharmacother. 2002 Aug;56(6):276-82.

Absorption and metabolism of polyphenols in the gut and impact on health.

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  • 1Laboratoire des maladies métaboliques et micronutriments, INRA, Saint-Genes-Champanelle, France.


Polyphenols are the most abundant antioxidants in the human diet. They show a considerable structural diversity, which largely influences their bioavailability. Phenolic acids like caffeic acid are easily absorbed through the gut barrier, whereas large molecular weight polyphenols such as proanthocyanidins are very poorly absorbed. Once absorbed, polyphenols are conjugated to glucuronide, sulphate and methyl groups in the gut mucosa and inner tissues. Non-conjugated polyphenols are virtually absent in plasma. Such reactions facilitate their excretion and limit their potential toxicity. The polyphenols reaching the colon are extensively metabolised by the microflora into a wide array of low molecular weight phenolic acids. The biological properties of both conjugated derivatives and microbial metabolites have rarely been examined. Their study will be essential to better assess the health effects of dietary polyphenols. Alternatively, some health effects of polyphenols may not require their absorption through the gut barrier. Their role as iron chelators in the gut lumen is briefly discussed.

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