Twice the amount of alpha-carotene isolated from carrots is as effective as beta-carotene in maintaining the vitamin A status of Mongolian gerbils.
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The vitamin A (VA) value of carotenoids from fruits and vegetables is affected by many factors. This study determined the VA value of alpha-carotene isolated from carrots compared with beta-carotene and retinyl acetate supplements fed to Mongolian gerbils (Meriones unguiculatus). Gerbils (n = 38) were fed a VA-free diet for 4 wk. At baseline, 6 gerbils were killed to determine liver VA. Gerbils were divided into 3 treatment groups (n = 9/group) and given 35, 35, or 17.5 nmol retinyl acetate, alpha-carotene or beta-carotene, respectively, in 2 divided doses 5 h apart each day. The remaining 5 gerbils received oil vehicle. Gerbils were killed after 3 wk of supplementation. Serum samples and livers were collected and analyzed for VA. Liver extracts were subsequently saponified to quantify alpha-retinol. Serum retinol concentrations did not differ among the groups. Liver retinyl palmitate concentrations were significantly higher in the retinyl acetate treatment group (0.198 +/- 0.051 micromol/g; P < 0.05) than in all other groups. The alpha- and beta-carotene treatments resulted in similar retinyl palmitate concentrations, i.e., 0.110 +/- 0.026 and 0.109 +/- 0.051 micromol/g, respectively, which did not differ from the concentrations in gerbils killed at baseline (0.123 +/- 0.024 micromol/g). The oil group had significantly less retinyl palmitate (0.061 +/- 0.029 micromol/g; P < 0.05) than all other groups. alpha-Retinol was detected in livers of the alpha-carotene group (0.062 +/- 0.013 micromol/g). Thus, twice the amount of purified alpha-carotene maintained VA status as well as beta-carotene in VA-depleted gerbils. Conversion factors were approximately 5.5 microg alpha-carotene or approximately 2.8 mug beta-carotene to 1 microg retinol.