Aspects of anthocyanin absorption, metabolism and pharmacokinetics in humans

Colin D. Kay

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161 Citations (Scopus)


Interest in the health-promoting properties of berry anthocyanins is intensifying; however, findings are primarily based on in vitro characteristics, leaving mechanisms associated with absorption, metabolism and pharmacokinetics largely unexplored. The present review integrates the available anthocyanin literature with that of similar flavonoids or polyphenols in order to form hypotheses regarding absorption, metabolism and clearance in humans. Of the limited available literature regarding the absorption and clearance kinetics of anthocyanins, maximum plasma concentrations are reported anywhere between 1·4 and 592 nmol/l and occur at 0·5–4 h post-consumption (doses; 68–1300 mg). Average urinary excretion is reported between 0·03 and 4 % of the ingested dose, having elimination half-lives of 1·5–3 h. In addition, much is unknown regarding the metabolism of anthocyanins. The most commonly cited conjugation reactions involved in the metabolism of other flavonoids include glucuronidation, methylation and sulfation. It is reasonable to suspect that anthocyanins are metabolised in much the same manner; however, until recently, there was little evidence to suggest that anthocyanins were metabolised to any significant extent. New evidence now suggests that anthocyanins are absorbed and transported in human serum and urine primarily as metabolites, with recent studies documenting as much as 68–80 % of anthocyanins as metabolised derivatives in human urine. Further research is required to resolve mechanisms associated with the absorption, metabolism and clearance of anthocyanins in order to establish their true biological activities and health effects. The presented evidence will hopefully focus future research, refining study design and propagating a more complete understanding of anthocyanins' biological significance in humans.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)137-146
Number of pages10
JournalNutrition Research Reviews
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2006

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