The Expanding Definition of Prebiotics

In the last year, there has been a lot of new attention to the prebiotic effects of polyphenols, which for us at Greenteaspoon has been great to see. However, research alluding to their prebiotic benefits goes back to at least 1990, when the first research papers were published demonstrating the positive effect that polyphenols have on probiotics.

So what has changed?

By applying recent developments in DNA sequencing, it is now clear to researchers that polyphenols have a profound effect on the types of bacteria that make up your gut microbiome. What has researchers most excited is that these changes in the makeup of the bacteria are closely linked to reduced symptoms of digestive distress and significantly lower levels of body-wide inflammation, which plays a major role in most of the common chronic diseases faced by humans today.

What is it about polyphenols that makes them prebiotic?

Polyphenols are a class of natural self-defense compounds produced by plants that have long been associated with good health in humans. While most of the early clinical research was focused on their potential to act as antioxidants, this potential explanation for how they benefit us has never gained traction among the medical community, largely because of the fact that approximately 98% of the polyphenols we eat cannot be absorbed by the body, so they never leave the digestive tract. However, the past decade has seen an increasing amount of research exploring the health benefits of polyphenols

To learn more about polyphenols and the research that has taken place over the last 30 years, here's a list of scientific journal articles outlining their prebiotic effects. 

Evidence for the Development of Polyphenol-Based Prebiotics


  1. Effect of Green Tea Extract on Growth of Intestinal Bacteria (1990)
  1. The influence of tea catechins on fecal flora of elderly residents in long-term care facilities (1998)
    1. In vivo effects of tea polyphenol intake on human intestinal microflora and metabolism (1992)
    1. Selective Growth Responses of Human Intestinal Bacteria to Araliaceae (ginseng) (1992)
    1. Selective Responses of ThreeGinkgo bilobaLeaf-Derived Constituents on Human Intestinal Bacteria (2002)
    1. A polyphenol-rich cranberry extract protects from diet-induced obesity, insulin resistance and intestinal inflammation in association with increased Akkermansia spp. population in the gut microbiota of mice (2014)
    1. Effect of cranberry juice intake on human gut microbial community and urinary metabolites in a randomized, placebo-controlled intervention (2010)
    1. Polyphenol-rich extract of pomegranate peel alleviates tissue inflammation and hypercholesterolaemia in high-fat diet-induced obese mice: potential implication of the gut microbiota (2013)
    1. The influence of pomegranate by-product and punicalagins on selected groups of human intestinal microbiota (2010)
    1. Lowbush Wild Blueberries Have the Potential to Modify Gut Microbiota and Xenobiotic Metabolism in the Rat Colon (2013)
    1. Six-Week Consumption of a Wild Blueberry Powder Drink Increases Bifidobacteria in the Human Gut (2011)
    1. Intake of Blueberry Fermented by Lactobacillus plantarum Affects the Gut Microbiota of hypertension-induced (L-NAME Treated) Rats (2013)
    1. Green tea powder and Lactobacillus plantarum affect gut microbiota, lipid metabolism and inflammation in high-fat fed C57BL/6J mice (2012)
    1. Effect of tea phenolics and their aromatic fecal bacterial metabolites on intestinal microbiota (2006)
    1. Metabolism of anthocyanins by human gut microflora and their influence on gut bacterial growth (2012)
    1. Flavanol monomer-induced changes to the human fecal microflora (2008)
    1. Prebiotic evaluation of cocoa-derived flavanols in healthy humans by using a randomized, controlled, double-blind, crossover intervention study (2011)
    1. Influence of red wine polyphenols and ethanol on the gut microbiota ecology and biochemical biomarker (2012)
    1. Effect of tea phenolics and their aromatic fecal bacterial metabolites on intestinal microbiota (2006)
    1. Effects of green tea consumption on human fecal microbiota with special reference to Bifidobacterium species (2012)
    1. Improvement of intestinal microflora balance and prevention of digestive and respiratory organ diseases in calves by green tea extracts (2001)
    1. Impact of polyphenols from black tea and red wine/grape juice on a gut model microbiome (2013)
    1. Carbohydrate-Free Peach (Prunus persica) and Plum (Prunus domestica) Juice Affects Fecal Microbial Ecology in an Obese Animal Model (2014)
    1. Physiological Effects of Extraction Juices from Apple, Grape, and Red Beet Pomaces in Rats (2006)
      1. Effect of Flavan-3-ols on the Adhesion of Potential Probiotic Lactobacilli to Intestinal Cells (2012)