Prebiotic effects of citrus flavonoids

  • October 15, 2020
  • 3 mins of read time

Prebiotic effects of citrus flavonoids

The microbes living in our intestine, collectively called ‘microbiota’, are extremely important for our health. The microbiota has several crucial functions to support health: synthesizing vitamins and health-promoting molecules such as short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs), protecting the intestinal mucosa, stimulating the immune system and digesting several food compounds. An unbalanced microbiota composition can negatively impact host health, which is why the microbiota should be treated well.

The citrus flavonoids hesperidin and naringin can influence the intestinal microbiota. In vitro studies have shown that these flavonoids, which are abundant in citrus fruits, can have prebiotic effects on the intestinal microbiota by stimulating growth of beneficial bacteria and inhibiting growth of pathogenic bacteria.

Human clinical trial

In a recent clinical trial at São Paulo State University, the prebiotic effects of these citrus flavonoids have been further investigated in humans. Ten healthy women consumed hesperidin- and naringin- containing orange juice daily for two months. To investigate the effects on intestinal health and metabolism of these women, total microbiota composition and several metabolic markers were measured one month before, during and one month after the daily orange juice consumption period. And guess what? Intestinal and metabolic health improved significantly during consumption of the citrus flavonoid-containing juice!

It's all in the pattern

When the total microbiota of all women was compared between the periods with and without citrus flavonoid-containing juice consumption, a clear distinction in microbiota patterns was seen, suggesting a prebiotic effect. The orange juice consumption positively modulated the microbiota composition by increasing beneficial bacterial species, including Bifidobacterium spp., Lactobacillus spp., and Akkermansia spp. The latter has been inversely associated with obesity, diabetes, cardiometabolic diseases and low grade inflammation and may even contribute to the expansion of other beneficial bacterial species. In addition, during juice consumption, a decrease was observed in disadvantageous bacterial species belonging to the Bacteroidetes, Firmicutes and Proteobacteria phyla.

The researchers also observed beneficial effects of the citrus flavonoid-containing juice on microbial metabolism, as measured by decreased fecal ammonia levels and increased SCFA concentrations. Elevated ammonia concentrations in the intestine can have detrimental effects on intestinal health, since they inhibit intestinal energy metabolism and SCFA oxidation. SCFAs are essential for intestinal health, as they function as primary energy source for intestinal cells, stimulate cell proliferation, improve stool consistency and decrease the absorption of ammonia.

Improving host health

In addition to the positive effects on intestinal parameters, daily citrus flavonoid-containing juice consumption for two months resulted in a reduction in blood glucose, insulin, triglyceride and ‘bad’ LDL cholesterol levels and improved insulin sensitivity. As several of these metabolic improvements were associated with the changes in relative abundance of specific bacterial species (i.e. Lactobacillus spp., Akkermansia spp.), these positive metabolic effects are likely mediated by the beneficial effects of hesperidin- and naringin-containing orange juice on the microbiota composition and its metabolic activity (e.g. the production of SCFAs). Hence, it shows the prebiotic effects on the microbiota, thereby improving lipid and glucose metabolism in the host!

The researchers concluded that hesperidin and naringin, found in citrus fruits and orange juice, can positively modulate the intestinal microbiota and, thereby, improve intestinal and metabolic health. In order to obtain these benefits, sufficient amounts of the citrus flavonoids hesperidin and naringin should be consumed regularly.


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Seppic Nutrition team



This article written by Bioactor is based on the following articles:

Fidélix, M., Milenkovic, D., Sivieri, K., & Cesar, T. (2020). Microbiota modulation and effects on metabolic biomarkers by orange juice: a controlled clinical trial. Food & Function, 11(2), 1599-1610.

Lima, A. C. D., Cecatti, C., Fidélix, M. P., Adorno, M. A. T., Sakamoto, I. K., Cesar, T. B., & Sivieri, K. (2019). Effect of daily consumption of orange juice on the levels of blood glucose, lipids, and gut microbiota metabolites: Controlled clinical trials. Journal of medicinal food, 22(2), 202-210.