Great Gut Blog

Polyphenols and Gut Health

Posted by Brad Dennis, Ph.D. on

Polyphenols and Gut Health

Ever since scientists established that there is a link between the bacteria living in our guts and our overall health and wellbeing, these bacteria have been grabbing the attention of the general public. Much has been done in the field and one of the discoveries regarding gut bacteria is that certain foods promote the growth of the good strains of bacteria that inhabit our gut - and these foods can also reduce symptoms that come as a consequence of poor dietary habits.

Scientist have proven that foods rich in polyphenols promote gut health and also reduce the symptoms of high-fat, diet-induced metabolic syndrome. Here’s a rundown of everything you need to know regarding this exciting discovery.

What Are Polyphenols

Polyphenols are a micronutrient that are very beneficial for our health. They can be found in a variety of plant-based foods, many of which are also packed with antioxidants, which are already well-known for the positive effect they have on our bodies. These micronutrients not only improve and help treat digestive issues, but are also known to be very helpful with:

  • Cardiovascular diseases
  • Weight management
  • Diabetes
  • Neurodegenerative disease

Which Foods are Rich in Polyphenols?

The European Journal of Clinical Nutrition has published its “Identification of the 100 richest dietary sources of polyphenols: an application of the Phenol-Explorer database” research conducted back in 2010. Here is what the scientists have discovered.

It may surprise you, but various herbs and spices are actually the foods containing the highest amount of polyphenols. Cloves topped the list of foods rich in polyphenols. They contain an amazing 15,000 mg of polyphenols per 100g, but it’s not the only spice that is rich in these micronutrients. Dried peppermint comes in second with 12,000 mg of polyphenols per 100g, followed by star anise at third, with 5,500 mg of polyphenols per 100g. Other herbs and spices in the list include Mexican oregano, sage, celery seed, rosemary, thyme, and spearmint.

Great news for all chocolate lovers: cocoa is also very rich in polyphenols, and is fourth on the list. 100g of cocoa powder contains 3,500 mg of polyphenols. This is why both dark and milk chocolate also made their way onto the list; dark chocolate contains 1,700 mg and milk chocolate 236 mg of polyphenols per 100g. Nut lovers have plenty to be happy about as well; almonds, hazelnuts and pecans all make the list.

Berries are well-known for their health benefits, and they are also rich in polyphenols. Numerous types of berry can be found on the list, including blueberries, blackberries, strawberries, and red raspberries. And it’s not just berries – other fruits and vegetables are also on the list, including apples and peaches, and onions, asparagus, and spinach.

If you want to learn more, you can read the article published in Nature magazine, and you can look up your favorite foods in Nature’s handy table of the top 100 foods.

What is Metabolic Syndrome?

Metabolic syndrome is a cluster of several related, chronic conditions: excess body fat, increased blood pressure, high blood sugar, and increased levels of triglycerides and cholesterol. This syndrome increases your risk of stroke, diabetes, and heart disease.

Scientific evidence strongly suggests that chronic inflammation is promoted by the interaction of an individual’s diet and their gut microbiota. And this is a very important factor that underlies chronic disorders like metabolic syndrome. The studies in this field have concluded that a high-fat diet is one factor that can lead to the development of metabolic syndrome. A high-fat diet detrimentally changes the composition of our gut bacteria, which in turn changes our intestinal barrier’s ability to function and causes dysfunction of our insulin receptors, leading to insulin resistance and glucose intolerance.

Numerous studies also discovered the link between polyphenols and gut bacteria. Polyphenols have a positive effect on bacteria inhabiting our gut. They promote the growth of good bacteria, which in turn can help protect the individual against metabolic syndrome or reduce the symptoms of metabolic syndrome induced by a high-fat diet.

The Effect of Polyphenols

Research has discovered a number of beneficial effects of polyphenols. Polyphenols regulate weight gain by reducing the amount of fats our body accumulates over time; eaten regularly, they help individuals to better metabolize fat.

Polyphenols play an important role in regulating the glucose metabolism by improving glucose tolerance, thus promoting better insulin action. This is why individuals who regularly eat foods rich in polyphenols tend to lose weight while still feeling energetic and ready for action, no matter how busy their days are.

Polyphenols also reduce systemic inflammation. Science studies discovered lower levels of substances causing systemic inflammation in people who ate foods rich in polyphenols. These individuals also have lower levels of triglycerides and cholesterol in their blood.

The primary purpose of much of this research was to establish the connection between a high-fat diet and substances that have a negative effect on gut flora and intestinal tissues. Since this connection was established, the researchers wanted to see if giving polyphenols to the people who were on a high-fat diet brought about any changes. The research proved that polyphenols promoted the growth of gut flora, significantly decreasing the levels of damaging substances in our guts. This then proved that polyphenols were able to reduce the symptoms of metabolic syndrome induced by a high-fat diet.

Our gut bacteria are strongly shaped by our diet – this is well-known by now. This research concluded that gut bacteria is very sensitive to polyphenols, especially Akkermansia Muciniphila. While high-fat and high-sugar foods increase the ratio of Firmicutes to Bacteroidetes and gets our gut flora out of balance, polyphenols can help to bring this ratio back into balance.

The studies have proven that polyphenols have positive effects on our health. They promote the growth of good gut bacteria while reducing the symptoms of metabolic syndrome caused by a high-fat diet.


Leave a comment

Please note, comments must be approved before they are published