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Am J Clin Nutr. 2009 May;89(5):1680S-1685S. doi: 10.3945/ajcn.2009.26736W. Epub 2009 Apr 8.

Soybean ferritin: implications for iron status of vegetarians.

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  • 1Department of Nutrition, University of California, Davis, CA, USA.


Meeting the requirement for absorbed iron is difficult for vegetarians, and their iron status often is lower than that of nonvegetarians. Beans contain ferritin in low concentrations, but it is possible to enhance this content by plant breeding or by inserting the gene for ferritin into plants, eg, soybeans. Because each ferritin molecule can bind to thousands of iron atoms, this may be a sustainable means to increase the iron contents of plants. Before such efforts are launched, it is important to determine whether iron in ferritin is bioavailable. This has been assessed in vitro by using human intestinal (Caco-2) cells and in vivo by using radiolabeled ferritin and whole-body counting in human subjects. Dietary factors affecting iron absorption, eg, ascorbic acid, phytate, and calcium, had limited effect on iron uptake from intact ferritin by Caco-2 cells, which suggests that ferritin-bound iron is absorbed via a mechanism different from that of nonheme iron. In an in vitro digestion system, ferritin was shown to be relatively resistant to proteolytic enzymes. Binding of ferritin to Caco-2 cells was shown to be saturable, and the kinetics for binding were characteristic of a receptor-mediated process. In human subjects, iron from purified soybean ferritin given in a meal was as well absorbed as iron from ferrous sulfate. In conclusion, iron is well absorbed from ferritin and may represent a means of biofortification of staple foods such as soybeans.

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