Lignans are diphenolic plant compounds with potential health modulating properties that are absorbed to the circulation and metabolized to the enterolignans enterodiol (END) and enterolactone (ENL) by gut microbiota. Epidemiological studies have inconsistently shown that a high lignan intake and circulating ENL are associated with reduced risk of breast-, prostate-, and colorectal cancer as well as cardiovascular disease and total and cause-specific mortality. Inconsistencies can be due to interpersonal variation of ENL formation or responses. The aim of this review is to identify and evaluate the impact of factors influencing variability in plasma concentrations of the main enterolignan, ENL. The main determinants of plasma ENL concentrations are intake of lignan and lignan-rich foods, composition and activity of intestinal microflora, antimicrobial use, nutrient intake, BMI, smoking, sex, and age. Composition and activity of the intestinal microbiota appear to be the most critical factor governing interpersonal variability in plasma ENL concentration followed by the use of antibiotics. Future studies with combined data from gut microbiota and metabolomics with food intake and life style data can be used to estimate the relative contribution of the different factors to ENL concentration in quantitative terms.
- interpersonal variation