Review: The true antioxidant potential of wholegrain cereals

By Kacey Culliney

- Last updated on GMT

In vitro antioxidant activity of wholegrain cereals is not a reflection of in vivo potential, review says
In vitro antioxidant activity of wholegrain cereals is not a reflection of in vivo potential, review says

Related tags Antioxidant Digestion Journal of cereal science

Digestion may impact the antioxidant potential of wholegrain cereals and more human studies are needed to confirm their true activity, according to research.

A review published in the Journal of Cereal Science​ suggested that while evidence on the antioxidant potential of wholegrain cereals is plentiful, further research – importantly in vivo​ – needs to be conducted to discover the true antioxidant potential.

“The ​in vitro antioxidant capacity of cereals is only an approximate reflection of their ​in vivo antioxidant effect due to differences in antioxidant solubility/bioavailability within the digestive tract and the metabolism/conjugation of compounds such as polyphenols,”​ the researchers wrote.

“During digestion, the antioxidant capacity of cereals is increased and is likely to provide a favorable antioxidative environment for the epithelium tract, notably in the large intestine,”​ they continued.

Antioxidant potential likely underestimated

The researchers said that while extensive research has measured the in vitro​ antioxidant potential of wholegrain cereals, refined cereals, brans and other various cereal products, the antioxidant capacity of these grains has likely been underestimated.

Un-physiological extraction methods using solvents – used in most published in vitro​ studies – does not completely release all the antioxidant compounds, they said. There is an important fraction of antioxidant micronutrients, especially insoluble phenolic acids, which is strongly bound to the fiber fraction of the grain outer layers, they added.

“…It is therefore difficult to predict the ​in vivo efficiency of an antioxidant or of a cereal product based solely on ​in vitro measurements. Numerous factors may influence the antioxidant action of the defined compound ​in vivo, such as digestibility, bioavailability and metabolism – for example conjugation for polyphenols.”

“Thus, the relationship between the antioxidant capacity measured ​in vitro and the real health benefits of cereals and cereal products is not really known,”​ they said.

Activity in humans not fully understood

While wholegrain cereals seem to provide an antioxidant protection throughout the intestinal tract - this should be confirmed by in vivo ​studies.

“While the antioxidant capacity of cereals is believed to contribute to a better antioxidant status ​in vivo, the mechanisms involved remain poorly understood, and it is difficult to associate the effect of a given micro-constituent with a particular metabolic effect.”

The review also noted that strong in vitro​ antioxidant potential was not always an indication of a strong in vivo​ effect.

Human studies remain scarce…

Animal studies have been conducted, along with a few in humans, the review said.

However, investigation into the antioxidant potential of cereal in animals and humans remains “scarce in view of the numerous ​in vitro studies”.


Source: Journal of Cereal Science
Published online ahead of print, doi: 10.1016/j.jcs.2008.01.002
“Is the ​in vitro antioxidant potential of whole-grain cereals and cereal products well reflected ​in vivo?”
Authors: A. Fardet, E. Rock and C. Rémésy

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