A large number of flavonoids, mostly O-glycosides, are found in foods of plant origin. The bound sugar moiety is known to influence their bioavailability. We examined here the effect of the nature of the sugar on the absorption of the glycosides. Four groups of rats (n=6) received a meal containing 20 mg of quercetin equivalents supplied as aglycone, quercetin 3-glucoside, quercetin 3-rhamnoside or rutin. Plasma were hydrolysed by a βglucuronidase/sulfatase and analyzed by HPLC coupled to UV detection at 370 nm. Four hours after the beginning of the meal, the quercetin metabolites present in plasma were identical in all groups but their total concentrations were quite different. With pure quercetin the circulating levels were 11.7± 1.8 μM, but this level was three fold higher when quercetin was supplied as quercetin 3-glucoside (33.2± 3.5 μM). By contrast, the plasma concentrations of quercetin metabolites was quite low with the rutin meal (about 3 μM) and undetectable after the quercetin 3-rhamnoside meal. These data suggest that the 3-O-glucosylation improves the absorption of quercetin in the small intestine, whereas the binding of a rhamnose or of a glucose-rhamnose moiety to the aglycone markedly depressed its absorption. Additionnal experiments have shown that the higher plasma levels measured after the meal containing quercetin 3-glucoside compared to quercetin were maintained throughout a 24 hour period following the meal.
In conclusion, the nature of the glycosylation markedly influences the efficiency of quercetin absorption in rats. Quercetin 3-glucose can be absorbed in the small intestine and is better absorbed than quercetin itself. By contrast, glycosides containing a rhamnose moiety could not be absorbed in the small intestine.