Due to the high prevalence of iron and vitamin A deficiencies and to the controversy about the role of vitamin A and carotenoids in iron absorption, the objectives of this study were to evaluate the following: (1) the effect of a molar excess of vitamin A as well as the role of tannic acid on iron uptake by Caco-2 cells; (2) iron uptake and ferritin synthesis in presence of carotenoids without pro-vitamin A activity: lycopene, lutein, and zeaxantin; and (3) iron uptake and ferritin synthesis from ferrous fumarate and NaFe-EDTA. Cells were incubated 1 h at 37 °C in PBS pH 5.5, containing 59Fe and different iron compounds. Vitamin A, ferrous fumarate, β-carotene, lycopene, lutein, zeaxantin, and tannic acid were added to evaluate uptake. Ferritin synthesis was measured 24 h after uptake experiments. Vitamin A had no effect on iron uptake by Caco-2 cells, and was significantly lower from NaFe-EDTA than from ferrous fumarate (15.2 ± 2.5 compared with 52.5 ± 8.3 pmol Fe/mg cell protein, respectively). Carotenoids increase uptake up to 50% from fumarate and up to 300% from NaFe-EDTA, since absorption from this compound is low when administered alone. We conclude the following: (1) There was no effect of vitamin A on iron uptake and ferritin synthesis by Caco-2cells. (2) Carotenoids significantly increased iron uptake from ferrous fumarate and NaFe-EDTA, and were capable of partially overcoming the inhibition produced by tannic acid. (3) Iron uptake by Caco-2 cell from NaFe-EDTA was significantly lower compared to other iron compounds, although carotenoids increased and tannic acid inhibited iron uptake comparably to ferrous fumarate.
Since anemia, iron and Vitamin A deficiencies are public health problems affecting an important percentage of countries worldwide, the understanding of interactions between nutrients are necessary to develop food products or fortification policies aimed to control micronutrient deficiencies. This work highlights the importance of selecting iron compounds and the effect of carotenoids improving iron uptake.