Serum carotenoid interactions in premenopausal women reveal α-carotene is negatively impacted by body fat

Emily Taylor Nuss, Ashley R. Valentine, Zhumin Zhang, Hui Chuan Jennifer Lai, Sherry A. Tanumihardjo

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

11 Scopus citations


Increasing body mass indices (BMIs) across the globe reflect pandemic shifts towards habitual positive energy imbalances. Excess body fat in individuals is often associated with high-energy and high-fat diets scanty in fresh produce. Carotenoids are fat-soluble pigments plentiful in many fruits and vegetables. They are well-known for provitamin A and antioxidant functions, but little research has been done related to carotenoid-body mass interactions. Serum carotenoids were analyzed relative to body fat to determine correlations between major serum carotenoids, retinol, BMI, fat mass, and lean mass. Healthy women (n = 76), 19–50 years old, were categorized into two comparison groups determined by percent body fat measured by air displacement plethysomography (BOD POD®), i.e. <31% and ≥31% fat mass. Anthropometric and three-day diet records were completed for BMI and nutrient intake calculations, respectively. Serum α-carotene concentrations were strongly inversely associated with all measures of body composition (P < 0.001 α-carotene) controlling for dietary intake and age, while β-carotene, lutein, and lycopene were not (P > 0.05). Dietary intake between groups did not differ, including carrot consumption (a high dietary source of α-carotene). These results confirm previous carotenoid-health research and propose the need for further investigation of potential protective roles that α-carotene may perform for optimal health. Serum α-carotene may provide a deeper and clinically relevant purpose, beyond previous suggestions for its use as a biomarker for fruit and vegetable consumption, in that α-carotene may be a biomarker for chronic disease risk frequently linked with obesity. Impact statement: Carotenoids are important pigments in fruit and vegetables and found in human serum. This study isolated a negative relationship between serum α-carotene and body fatness. As humans begin to live over a century, determining biomarkers of ultimate health is important. α-Carotene does not have the same distribution in the food supply as β-carotene and therefore is often overlooked in surveys. In part, this is due to the fact that β-carotene provides two molecules of vitamin A, while α-carotene provides one upon central cleavage. This study shows a very clear association between α-carotene and body fatness, which appears to go beyond its fat-soluble nature. Dietary intake data were not able to explain the association. Further work is needed to determine what dietary components infer health benefits.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1262-1270
Number of pages9
JournalExperimental Biology and Medicine
Issue number12
StatePublished - Jun 1 2017
Externally publishedYes


  • Adiposity
  • alpha-carotene
  • premenopausal women
  • retinol
  • serum carotenoids
  • vegetable intake

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology


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