Bioavailability of Carotenoids – Impact of high mineral concentrations

Joanna Corte-Real

Research output: Types of ThesisDoctoral Thesis


Carotenoids are organic lipophilic tetraterpenes ubiquitously present in Nature and found across the three domains of life (Archaea, Bacteria and Eukaryotes). Their structure is characterized by an extensive conjugated double-bond system, which serves as a light-absorbing chromophore, hence determining its colour, and enables carotenoids to absorb energy from other molecules and to act as antioxidant agents. Humans obtain carotenoids mainly via the consumption of fruits and vegetables, and to a smaller extent from other food sources such as fish and eggs. The concentration of carotenoids in the human plasma and tissues has been positively associated with a lower incidence of several chronic diseases including, cancer, diabetes, macular degeneration and cardiovascular conditions, likely due to their antioxidant properties. However, an important aspect of carotenoids, namely β- and α-carotene and β-cryptoxanthin, in human health and development, is their potential to be converted by the body into Vitamin A. Yet, bioavailability of carotenoids is relatively low (< 30%) and dependent, among others, on dietary factors, such as amount and type of dietary lipids and the presence of dietary fibres. One dietary factor that has been found to negatively impact carotenoid bioaccessibility and cellular uptake in vitro is high concentrations of divalent cations during simulated gastro-intestinal digestion. Nevertheless, the mechanism of action of divalent cations remains unclear. The goal of this thesis was to better understand how divalent cations act during digestion and modulate carotenoid bioavailability. In vitro trials of simulated gastro-intestinal digestion and cellular uptake were run to investigate how varying concentrations of calcium, magnesium and zinc affected the bioaccessibility of both pure carotenoids and carotenoids from food matrices. In order to validate or refute results obtained in vitro, a randomized and double blinded placebo controlled cross-over postprandial trial (24 male participants) was carried out, testing the effect of 3 supplementary calcium doses (0 mg, 500 mg and 1000 mg) on the bioavailability of carotenoids from a spinach based meal. In vitro trials showed that addition of the divalent cations significantly decreased the bioaccessibility of both pure carotenoids (P < 0.001) and those from food matrices (P < 0.01). This effect was dependent on the type of mineral and its concentration. Strongest effects were seen for increasing concentrations of calcium followed by magnesium and zinc. The addition of divalent cations also altered the physico-chemical properties, i.e. viscosity and surface tension, of the digestas. However, the extent of this effect varied according to the type of matrix. The effects on bioaccessibility and physico-chemical properties were accompanied by variations of the zeta-potential of the particles in solution. Taken together, results from the in vitro trials strongly suggested that divalent cations were able to bind bile salts and other surfactant agents, affecting their solubility. The observed i) decrease in macroviscosity, ii) increase in surface tension, and the iii) reduction of the zeta-potential of the digesta, confirmed the removal of surfactant agents from the system, most likely due to precipitation as a result of the lower solubility of the mineral-surfactant complexes. As such, micellarization of carotenoids was hindered, explaining their reduced bioaccessibility. As for the human trial, results showed that there was no significant influence of supplementation with either 500 or 1000 mg of supplemental calcium (in form of carbonate) on the bioavailability of a spinach based meal, as measured by the area-under curve of carotenoid concentrations in the plasma-triacylglycerol rich fraction, suggesting that the in vitro results are not supported in such an in vivo scenario, which may be explained by the initial low bioaccessibility of spinach carotenoids and the dissolution kinetics of the calcium pills. Further investigations are necessary to understand how divalent cations act during in vivo digestion and potentially interact with lipophilic nutrients and food constituents.
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Kaiserslautern
  • Bohn, Torsten, Supervisor
Award date17 Oct 2018
Publication statusPublished - 17 Oct 2018


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