Updated: Aug 29, 2021
The compounds which give plants their vibrant colour are polyphenols, a class of over 8000 compounds with numerous identified health benefits. Polyphenols are created by plants as a protective mechanism against environmental dangers such as pathogens and UV radiation.
A major way polyphenols exert their health benefits is by modulating the gut microbiome.
Polyphenols are both anti-microbial and prebiotic and can favourably alter the gut microbiota to prevent chronic disease. The gut microbiome can also enhance the health benefits of polyphenols by metabolising them into more biologically active compounds.
A great example is the polyphenol daidzen found in soy which is converted by gut microbes into the more potent compound equol. Equol is largely responsible for the health benefits of soy due to its affinity for specific estrogen receptors.
Dysbiosis or lacking the specific gut microbes responsible for this conversion of daidzen to equol can reduce the beneficial effects of consuming soy. Research suggests some individuals create 800-fold more equol due to their microbiome profile.