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Providing perspectives on recent research into vitamins and nutritionals


Serum Carotenoid & Vitamin E Concentrations: The ‘Canary in the Mine’ for Longterm Health?

By Michael McBurney

It is paradoxical that malnutrition can co-exist as undernutrition (inadequate intake of essential vitamins and minerals) and overweight/obesity (excess intake of calories relative to energy expenditure) at the same time (Provo, 2013). Unfortunately, the double burden of malnutrition exists outside of Africa.

With estimates of  30-40% of Mexican American boys and girls being overweight and 17-30% being obese, Gunanti and colleagues chose to examine the relation between carotenoids, retinol and vitamin E and body adiposity in 1,131 Mexican-American children living in the US. Over 20% of the children were overweight and 26% of  boys and 19% of girls were obese. Serum carotene and α-tocopherol (adjusted for cholesterol) concentrations were negatively associated with body mass index and total body fat mass. The highest quartiles of serum carotene concentrations were associated with a reduced probability of obesity.

Because inadequate amounts of vitamin E are consumed daily, many Latino children are likely to have vitamin E concentrations near deficient levels (< 11µmol/L) even though carotenoid intakes and plasma concentrations may be in the normal range (Kim et al, 2006).

Low levels of carotenoids and vitamins in the blood may reflect poor dietary intakes, especially of fruit, vegetables, and whole grains. Because these nutrients are fat soluble, reduced concentrations could also be associated with adiposity. Suboptimal concentrations of carotenoids and vitamin E might be an indicator of greater utilization to counter oxidative stress associated with obesity-related subclinical inflammation.

Bottomline: low antioxidant nutrient concentrations are a marker of inadequate intake and may be the ‘canary in the coal mine’ with respect to longterm health.

Main Citation

Gunanti IR, Marks GC, Al-Mamun A, Long KZ. Low serum concentrations of carotenoids and vitamin E are associated with high adiposity in Mexican-American children. 2014 J Nutr doi: 10.3945/jn.113.183137

Other Citations

Provo AM. Towards sustainable nutrition for all: Tackling the double burden of malnutrition in Africa. 2013 Sight and Life 27(3): 40

Kim Y-N, Lora KR, Giraud DW, Driskell JA. Nonsupplemented children of Latino immigrants have low vitamin E intakes and plasma concentrations and normal vitamin C, selenium, and carotenoid intakes and plasma concentrations. 2006 JADA doi: 10.1016/j.jada.2005.12.010