Plant foods contain substantial amounts of phenolic compounds. Dietary interventions with phenolic supplementation show that phenolic compounds are transformed into phenolic acids or lactone structures by intestinal microbiota. The colon is the main site of microbial fermentation. The metabolites circulate in plasma and are excreted via urine. The entero-hepatic circulation ensures that their residence time in plasma is extended compared to that of their parent compounds. Thus these metabolites may exert systemic effects, which however have not been studied adequately. In particular the health implications of microbial metabolites of flavonoids, mostly phenolic acids, are unknown. This review aims to elucidate the microbial metabolism of most of the phenolic classes: flavonoids, isoflavonoids, lignans, phenolic acids and tannins. Some examples of biological activity studies of flavonoid and lignan metabolites are given. Biological significance of enterolactone, a mammalian plant lignan metabolite, has been studied quite extensively, but convincing evidence of the health benefits of the diverse pool of microbial metabolites is still scarce. Hopefully, novel tools in systems biology and the constant search for biomarkers will elucidate the role of the phenolic metabolome in health and in the prevention of chronic diseases. In conclusion, the colon is not only an excretion route, but also an active site of metabolism and deserves further attention from the scientific community.
- Phenolic acids