Latest research findings suggest intake of carotenoids such as lycopene, lutein and zeaxanthin not only improve iron absorption, and they also reversed the inhibitory effects of coffee.
Iron deficiency remains the leading nutrient deficiency in developed countries. Iron supplements are not always effective since the body has trouble absorbing this form of iron. The problem is worsened when coffee or tea is drunk during mealtimes, because these beverages are known to further inhibit iron absorption.
Over 120 volunteers were assigned to one of five groups. Each group was given one of four breakfasts during the course of the study period. The breakfasts contained corn flour or wheat flour fortified with iron.
The fist meal was the simple iron-enriched breakfast. Meal 2 was fortified with lycopene (either 1.8 or 3.6 mg), meal 3 with lutein (0.9 or .8 mg), and meal 4 with zeaxanthin (0.9 or 1.8 mg). Some of the groups were also given coffee to drink with the breakfast.
Researchers found that the absorption of iron from the wheat-based breakfast was found to significantly increase in the presence of the carotenoids, with no significant difference between the individual carotenoids, compared to the simple iron-enriched breakfast.
Similar results were observed for the corn bread groups, although absorption was lower from the corn breakfasts compared to the wheat breakfast.
Researchers suspect that one potential mechanism could be due to an association between the carotenoid and the iron molecule, which changes the solubility of the iron form and improves the absorption in the gut.
Further research is needed to confirm the relationship between carotenoids and iron absorption.
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