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Adv Nutr. 2019 Dec 23. pii: nmz131. doi: 10.1093/advances/nmz131. [Epub ahead of print]

Retinol, Retinoic Acid, and Retinol-Binding Protein 4 are Differentially Associated with Cardiovascular Disease, Type 2 Diabetes, and Obesity: An Overview of Human Studies.

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Department of Nutrition, Institute of Basic Medical Sciences, Faculty of Medicine, University of Oslo, Oslo, Norway.
Department of Clinical Service, Division of Cancer Medicine, Oslo University Hospital, Oslo, Norway.


Vitamin A is a fat-soluble essential nutrient obtained from plant- and animal-based sources that has roles in growth, vision, and metabolism. Vitamin A circulates mainly as retinol bound to retinol-binding protein 4 (RBP4), and is delivered to tissues and converted to retinoic acid, which is a ligand for several nuclear receptors. In recent years, aspects of vitamin A metabolism have been under scrutiny with regards to the development of metabolic and lifestyle diseases including cardiovascular disease (CVD), type 2 diabetes mellitus (T2DM), and overweight and obesity in humans. Studies have mainly focused on RBP4 in this context, whereas the major circulating form, retinol, and the major bioactive form, retinoic acid, have been overlooked in this regard until recently. As one of the main roles of RBP4 is to deliver retinol to tissues for biological action, the associations of retinol and retinoic acid with these diseases must also be considered. In this review, we summarize and discuss recent and available evidence from human studies with focus on retinol, retinoic acid, and RBP4 and provide an overview of these crucial components of vitamin A metabolism in CVD, T2DM, and obesity. In summary, retinol was found to be both inversely and positively associated with CVD whereas the associations with T2DM and obesity were less clear. Although only a few studies have been published on retinoic acid, it was inversely associated with CVD. In contrast, serum RBP4 was mostly found to be positively associated with CVD, T2DM, and obesity. At present, it is difficult to ascertain why the reported associations differ depending on the compound under study, but there is a clear imbalance in the literature in disfavor of retinol and retinoic acid, which needs to be considered in future human studies.


cardiovascular disease; epidemiology; fat-soluble vitamins; obesity; overweight; type 2 diabetes mellitus; vitamin A


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