Who Benefits from Flavonoids?

UMD Researcher to Investigate How Gut Microbiome Influences Digestion of Beneficial Food Compounds

Image Credit: Lucíola Correia, Wikicommons

February 9, 2024 Kimbra Cutlip

Blueberries, apples, red wine, green tea, dark chocolate: the list of foods and beverages that contain beneficial chemicals called flavonoids is nearly endless. Including them in a healthy diet may help ward off heart disease, diabetes, obesity, cancer, inflammation and dementia, among other ills. But studies of exactly how much of which flavonoids are needed for a specific health outcome are far from clear. That’s in part because not everyone benefits from flavonoids in the same way.

A new study from Associate Professor of Nutrition and Food Science Margaret Slavin aims to shed light on the role a person’s gut microbiome plays in digesting flavonoids, which could make them more or less available to the body.

“We want to know if people are more responsive to flavonoids because their gut microbiomes function differently, and if we can predict who will benefit based on the presence of certain microbiome indicators in their gut,” said Slavin who is a registered dietitian.

Slavin is recruiting 300 people between the ages 18 and 45 for the first part of the study. The participants will be given a soy snack to eat for three days, and then asked to provide a urine sample. Then, out of those 300, 30 participants will be given 6 days-worth of meals and Slavin will test their gut microbiome as they consume the different meals.

In the first part of the study, Slavin will identify how participants’ gut microbiomes break down flavonoids found in soy foods. In the second part, she will be looking at how their gut microbiomes break down flavonoids in apples, which are different from soy flavonoids. Slavin will be looking to verify if a single chemical signal can be used to identify the breakdown of both. That’s important because there are thousands of flavonoids, and this would allow researchers to narrow down what they measure in future studies on flavonoids and health.

Having one chemical signal, or marker, for flavonoid breakdown in the gut will make it much easier to identify who might benefit most from adding them to their diet. It would also make it easier to study flavonoid digestion and accessibility in the body and whether that plays a role in why flavonoids are more beneficial to some people than others.

“Our study is a step in the direction of more personalized nutrition recommendations,” Slavin said. “Because if we’re able to see who benefits more from eating flavonoids, it could inform decisions about, say, whether or not to spend the extra money to have that serving of berries, for example.”

To learn more about the study:

This work is supported by the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) Award number 2022-67017-41032. This story does not necessarily represent the views and opinions of this organization.