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Small quantities of carotenoid-rich tropical green leafy vegetables indigenous to Africa maintain vitamin A status in Mongolian gerbils (Meriones unguiculatus)

  • Richard A. Ejoh (a1) (a2), Joseph T. Dever (a1), Jordan P. Mills (a1) and Sherry A. Tanumihardjo (a1)


Leafy vegetables are important sources of provitamin A carotenoids. Information on their ability to provide vitamin A is often misleading because of the methodology used to assess bioefficacy. Mongolian gerbils were used to evaluate the bioefficacy of provitamin A carotenoids in tropical leafy vegetables (i.e. Solanum nigrum, Moringa oleifera, Vernonia calvoana and Hibiscus cannabinus) that are indigenous to Africa. Gerbils (n 67) were vitamin A-depleted for 5 weeks. After a baseline kill (n 7), the gerbils were weight-matched and assigned to six treatment groups (n 10; four vegetable groups; negative and positive controls). For 4 weeks, the treatments included 35 nmol vitamin A (theoretical concentrations based on 100 % bioefficacy) in the form of vegetables or retinyl acetate. In addition to their diets, the control and vegetable groups received daily doses of oil, while the vitamin A group received retinyl acetate in oil matched to prior day intake. Serum and livers were analysed for vitamin A using HPLC. Serum retinol concentrations did not differ among groups, but total liver vitamin A of the vitamin A and vegetable groups were higher than that of the negative control group (P < 0·0001). Liver β-carotene 15,15′-monooxygenase-1 expression levels were determined for two vegetable groups and were similar to the positive and negative controls. Conversion factors for the different leafy vegetables were between 1·9 and 2·3 μg β-carotene equivalents to 1 μg retinol. Small quantities of these vegetables maintained vitamin A status in gerbils through efficient bioconversion of β-carotene to retinol.

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Corresponding author

*Corresponding author: Sherry A. Tanumihardjo, fax +1 608 262 5860, email


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