The complex links between dietary phytochemicals and human health deciphered by metabolomics



A large variety of phytochemicals commonly consumed with the human diet, influence health and may contribute to the prevention of diseases. However, it is still difficult to make nutritional recommendations for these bioactive compounds. Current studies of phytochemicals are generally focused on specific compounds and their effects on a limited number of markers. New approaches are needed to take into account both the diversity of phytochemicals found in the diet and the complexity of their biological effects. Recent progress in high-throughput analytical technologies and in bioinformatics now allows the simultaneous analysis of the hundreds or more metabolites constituting the metabolome in urine or plasma. These analyses give complex metabolic fingerprints characteristic of a given phenotype. The exploitation of the wealth of information it contains, in randomized controlled trials and cohort studies, should lead to the discovery of new markers of intake for phytochemicals and new markers of effects. In this paper, we briefly review the current methods used to evaluate intake of phytochemicals and their effects on health. We then describe the applications of metabolomics in this field. Recent metabolomics studies illustrate the potential of such a global approach to explore the complex relationships linking phytochemical intake and metabolism and health.