Plant polyphenols may modulate microbiota: In vitro study

By Nathan Gray

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Phenolic compounds found in black tea and red wine grape extracts could modify the composition of microbes in our gut, say researchers from Unilever.
Phenolic compounds found in black tea and red wine grape extracts could modify the composition of microbes in our gut, say researchers from Unilever.

Related tags Bacteria

Bioactive compounds from black tea and grapes may help to modify the composition of our gut ecosystem, according to new research from Unilever scientists.

Writing in Food Research International​, the team used an in vitro model of the gut microbial ecosystem to investigate the effects of polyphenols on the composition of the gut ecosystem and the metabolites produced by the microbiota.

"So far, there are limited studies of complex polyphenols on the human gut microbiota especially using modern molecular technologies,"​ explained the team - led by Robèr Kemperman of Unilever R&D, the Netherlands.

Indeed, the team noted that most studies investigating effects of dietary polyphenols have focused on single compound or bacterial strains, rather than investigating the bigger picture.

"The results of the current study, obtained using microbial profiling tools, provide valuable novel insights into the impact of complex polyphenol mixtures on the human gut microbiota composition and activity, revealing novel targets potentially involved in polyphenol metabolism,"​ said the team.

Polyphenol benefits

Consumption of foods that are rich in polyphenolic compounds has b long been associated with health benefits related to cardiovascular function, including the modulation of various cardiovascular parameters such as, vascular and platelet function, blood pressure and the plasma lipid profile, with modulation of oxidative stress, inflammation, and endothelial function.

"As the majority of complex polyphenols reach the lower intestinal tract, mechanism of action most likely involves an interaction with the microbiota present in the small and large intestine,"​ noted the researchers. "In addition, some bacterial groups can transform polyphenols into metabolites, enhancing the low systematic bioavailability of the native compounds."

The team noted that such polyphenolic compounds are 'abundantly present' in foods such as tea and wine.

Study details

The Unilever R&D team, in collaboration with researchers from Ghent University in Belgium and INRA in France. used an in vitro model of the gut microbiota to test the effects of two complex mixtures of polyphenols - one from black tea, and the other an extract of red wine grapes.

In the current study, an in vitro​ gut microbial ecosystem, known as a simulator of the intestinal microbial ecosystem (SHIME).

The model system was challenged with either a black tea or a red wine grape extract (RWGE), while the team monitored the effects of these interventions on both microbial numbers and composition as well as metabolite levels.

"Antimicrobial effects, largely confined to unculturable members of the ecosystem, were revealed by complementary microbiological techniques,"​ said the team, while pyrosequencing analysis showed a shift in the Firmicutes​:Bacteroidetes​ ratio for both interventions.

They revealed that the black tea polyphenols stimulated Klebsiella​, enterococci andAkkermansia​ and reduced bifidobacteria, B. coccoides​, Anaeroglobus​ and Victivallis​.

Red wine grape extract promoted growth of Klebsiella, Alistipes​, Cloacibacillus​, Victivallis​ and Akkermansia​ while bifidobacteria, B. coccoides, Anaeroglobus, Subdoligranulum​ and Bacteroides​ were decreased.

"The study shows that these complex polyphenols in the context of a model system can modulate select members of the human gut microbiota,"​ said  Kemperman and his colleagues.

Source: Food Research International
Volume 53, Issue 2, Pages 659–669, doi: 10.1016/j.foodres.2013.01.034
"Impact of polyphenols from black tea and red wine/grape juice on a gut model microbiome"
Authors: Robèr A. Kemperman, Gabriele Gross, Stanilas Mondot, et al

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Posted by Ashwin Patel,

How can Polyphenols be "good" for health and longevity if they promote the growth of Pathogenic organisms such as Klebsiella in the gut? Klebsiella is linked to Ankylosing Spondylitis and Crohn's Disease. Should we stop consuming Tea and Red wine or should the Unilever Team repeat the experiment and perhaps include other Polyphenols such as Curcumin/Turmeric and Pomegranate Polyphenols?

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Posted by Tony Smith,

Hi, just read this interesting article and can't believe what I'm reading... Are you saying that what has previously been thought of as beneficial drinks like red wine and black tea are now not so beneficial? From what I have read here, your article states that both of these previously beneficial drinks have now been proven to reduce our beneficial bifidobacteria? Bifidobacteria are some of the most important strains of bacteria that live within us and this article suggests that by drinking black tea and red wine we are doing ourselves a disservice. Do you have the original documented experiment, or a link to it so I can read it? Regards, Tony Smith

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