Genes & Nutrition

, Volume 5, Issue 1, pp 75-87

First online:

Improving the oral bioavailability of beneficial polyphenols through designed synergies

  • Arjan ScheepensAffiliated withFunctional Foods and Health, The New Zealand Institute for Plant and Food Research LimitedPlant and Food Research Email author 
  • , Kee TanAffiliated withFunctional Foods and Health, The New Zealand Institute for Plant and Food Research Limited
  • , James W. PaxtonAffiliated withDepartment of Pharmacology and Clinical Pharmacology, Faculty of Medical and Health Sciences, The University of Auckland

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A substantial and growing consumer demand exists for plant-based functional foods that improve general health and wellbeing. Amongst consumed phytochemicals, the polyphenolic compounds tend to be the most bioactive. Many commonly consumed polyphenols have been shown to have specific and potent health-promoting activities when assessed by high-throughput in vitro assays and when administered to experimental animals by injection. However, very few have been shown to have any beneficial effects in animals or man when orally consumed, because of the poor bioavailability exhibited by most polyphenols following the ingestion. Consumed polyphenols, like most pharmaceuticals, are regarded as xenobiotics by the body and must overcome many barriers, including extensive enzymatic and chemical modification during digestion and absorption, to reach their site(s) of action. This is especially true for polyphenols targeting the brain, which is protected by the tightly regulated blood–brain barrier. Interestingly, many polyphenols are also known to specifically modify some of the metabolic and transport processes that govern bioavailability. Therefore, the opportunity exists to increase the bioactivity of beneficial polyphenols by designing specific synergistic interactions with polyphenols that improve their oral bioavailability. This hypothesis and review paper will discuss some of the endogenous systems that limit the bioavailability of ingested polyphenols to the body and the brain, and the means by which bioavailability may be improved by specifically designing synergies between orally consumed polyphenols.


Bioavailability Phases 1 and 2 metabolism ABC transporters Polyphenol Synergy Functional food