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      Prebiotic evaluation of cocoa-derived flavanols in healthy humans by using a randomized, controlled, double-blind, crossover intervention study.

      The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition
      Adult, Antioxidants, metabolism, Bifidobacterium, drug effects, growth & development, Biological Markers, Blood Pressure, C-Reactive Protein, analysis, Cacao, chemistry, Cross-Over Studies, Diet, Double-Blind Method, Feces, microbiology, Female, Flavonoids, pharmacology, Humans, Lactobacillus, Male, Prebiotics

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          Abstract

          The absorption of cocoa flavanols in the small intestine is limited, and the majority of the flavanols reach the large intestine where they may be metabolized by resident microbiota. We assessed the prebiotic potential of cocoa flavanols in a randomized, double-blind, crossover, controlled intervention study. Twenty-two healthy human volunteers were randomly assigned to either a high-cocoa flavanol (HCF) group (494 mg cocoa flavanols/d) or a low-cocoa flavanol (LCF) group (23 mg cocoa flavanols/d) for 4 wk. This was followed by a 4-wk washout period before volunteers crossed to the alternant arm. Fecal samples were recovered before and after each intervention, and bacterial numbers were measured by fluorescence in situ hybridization. A number of other biochemical and physiologic markers were measured. Compared with the consumption of the LCF drink, the daily consumption of the HCF drink for 4 wk significantly increased the bifidobacterial (P < 0.01) and lactobacilli (P < 0.001) populations but significantly decreased clostridia counts (P < 0.001). These microbial changes were paralleled by significant reductions in plasma triacylglycerol (P < 0.05) and C-reactive protein (P < 0.05) concentrations. Furthermore, changes in C-reactive protein concentrations were linked to changes in lactobacilli counts (P < 0.05, R(2) = -0.33 for the model). These in vivo changes were closely paralleled by cocoa flavanol-induced bacterial changes in mixed-batch culture experiments. This study shows, for the first time to our knowledge, that consumption of cocoa flavanols can significantly affect the growth of select gut microflora in humans, which suggests the potential prebiotic benefits associated with the dietary inclusion of flavanol-rich foods. This trial was registered at clinicaltrials.gov as NCT01091922.

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          Selective stimulation of bifidobacteria in the human colon by oligofructose and inulin.

          Oligofructose and inulin are naturally occurring indigestible carbohydrates. In vitro they selectively stimulate the growth of species of Bifidobacterium, a genus of bacteria considered beneficial to health. This study was designed to determine their effects on the large bowel microflora and colonic function in vivo. Eight subjects participated in a 45-day study during which they ate controlled diets. For the middle 15 days, 15 g.day-1 oligofructose was substituted for 15 g.day-1 sucrose. Four of these subjects went on to a further period with 15 g.day-1 inulin. Bowel habit, transit time, stool composition, breath H2 and CH4, and the predominant genera of colonic bacteria were measured. Both oligofructose and inulin significantly increased bifidobacteria from 8.8 to 9.5 log10 g stool-1 and 9.2 to 10.1 log10 g stool-1, respectively, whereas bacteroides, clostridia, and fusobacteria decreased when subjects were fed oligofructose, and gram-positive cocci decreased when subjects were fed inulin. Total bacterial counts were unchanged. Fecal wet and dry matter, nitrogen, and energy excretion increased with both substrates, as did breath H2. Little change in fecal short-chain fatty acids and breath CH4 was observed. A 15-g.day-1 dietary addition of oligofructose or inulin led to Bifidobacterium becoming the numerically predominant genus in feces. Thus, small changes in diet can alter the balance of colonic bacteria towards a potentially healthier microflora.
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            (-)-Epicatechin mediates beneficial effects of flavanol-rich cocoa on vascular function in humans.

            Epidemiological and medical anthropological investigations suggest that flavanol-rich foods exert cardiovascular health benefits. Endothelial dysfunction, a prognostically relevant key event in atherosclerosis, is characterized by a decreased bioactivity of nitric oxide (NO) and impaired flow-mediated vasodilation (FMD). We show in healthy male adults that the ingestion of flavanol-rich cocoa was associated with acute elevations in levels of circulating NO species, an enhanced FMD response of conduit arteries, and an augmented microcirculation. In addition, the concentrations and the chemical profiles of circulating flavanol metabolites were determined, and multivariate regression analyses identified (-)-epicatechin and its metabolite, epicatechin-7-O-glucuronide, as independent predictors of the vascular effects after flavanol-rich cocoa ingestion. A mixture of flavanols/metabolites, resembling the profile and concentration of circulating flavanol compounds in plasma after cocoa ingestion, induced a relaxation in preconstricted rabbit aortic rings ex vivo, thus mimicking acetylcholine-induced relaxations. Ex vivo flavanol-induced relaxation, as well as the in vivo increases in FMD, were abolished by inhibition of NO synthase. Oral administration of chemically pure (-)-epicatechin to humans closely emulated acute vascular effects of flavanol-rich cocoa. Finally, the concept that a chronic intake of high-flavanol diets is associated with prolonged, augmented NO synthesis is supported by data that indicate a correlation between the chronic consumption of a cocoa flavanol-rich diet and the augmented urinary excretion of NO metabolites. Collectively, our data demonstrate that the human ingestion of the flavanol (-)-epicatechin is, at least in part, causally linked to the reported vascular effects observed after the consumption of flavanol-rich cocoa.
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              Effect of tea phenolics and their aromatic fecal bacterial metabolites on intestinal microbiota.

              Tea is rich in polyphenols and other phenolics that have been widely reported to have beneficial health effects. However, dietary polyphenols are not completely absorbed from the gastrointestinal tract and are metabolized by the gut microflora so that they and their metabolites may accumulate to exert physiological effects. In this study, we investigated the influence of the phenolic components of a tea extract and their aromatic metabolites upon bacterial growth. Fecal homogenates containing bacteria significantly catalyzed tea phenolics, including epicatechin, catechin, 3-O-methyl gallic acid, gallic acid and caffeic acid to generate aromatic metabolites dependent on bacterial species. Different strains of intestinal bacteria had varying degrees of growth sensitivity to tea phenolics and metabolites. Growth of certain pathogenic bacteria such as Clostridium perfringens, Clostridium difficile and Bacteroides spp. was significantly repressed by tea phenolics and their derivatives, while commensal anaerobes like Clostridium spp., Bifidobacterium spp. and probiotics such as Lactobacillus sp. were less severely affected. This indicates that tea phenolics exert significant effects on the intestinal environment by modulation of the intestinal bacterial population, probably by acting as metabolic prebiotics. Our observations provide further evidence for the importance of colonic bacteria in the metabolism, absorption and potential activity of phenolics in human health and disease. The bioactivity of different phenolics may play an important role in the maintenance of gastrointestinal health.
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