Flavanols: Digestion, absorption and bioactivity

Robert M. Hackman, John A. Polagruto, Qin Yan Zhu, Buxiang Sun, Hajime Fujii, Carl L Keen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

60 Scopus citations


Flavanols, or flavan-3-ols, are a family of bioactive compounds present in cocoa, red wine, green tea, red grapes, berries and apples. With a basic monomer unit of (-)-epicatechin or (+)-catechin, flavanols can be present in foods and beverages as monomers or oligomers (procyanidins). Most, but not all, procyanidins are degraded into monomer or dimer units prior to absorption. The bioavailability of flavanols can be influenced by multiple factors, including food processing, cooking, digestion, and biotransformation. Flavanols are potent antioxidants, scavenging free radicals in vitro and in vivo. While some of the actions of flavanols can be linked to antioxidant activities, other modes of action may also occur, including modulation of intracellular signaling, effects on membrane fluidity and regulation of cytokine release or action. Physiologically, flavanol-rich foods and beverages can affect platelet aggregation, vascular inflammation, endothelial nitric oxide metabolism, and may confer protective effects against neurodegeneration. Epidemiological data suggests that intake of cocoa, a rich source of flavanols, is inversely associated with 15-year cardiovascular and all-cause mortality in older males. (-)-Epicatechin and its metabolite, epicatechin-7-O-glucuronide, have been identified as independent predictors of some of the vascular effects associated with the consumption of a flavanol-rich beverage. Targeted dietary components and nutrition supplements that can influence the vascular system will be of great value in the prevention and treatment of chronic disease.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)195-208
Number of pages14
JournalPhytochemistry Reviews
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2008


  • Cardiovascular disease
  • Epicatechin
  • Flavanols
  • Procyanidin
  • Vascular function

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Molecular Medicine
  • Plant Science
  • Biotechnology


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