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Hum Exp Toxicol. 1994 Jan;13(1):33-43.

The teratogenic metabolites of vitamin A in women following supplements and liver.

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Clinical Pharmacology Group, University of Southampton, UK.


Ten healthy female volunteers were given 5 doses of retinol as the palmitate; 50 and 150 mg retinol as an oral supplement, 50 and 150 mg as fried calf liver (50 and 150 g) and 3, 9 or 30 mg by intra-muscular injection. Plasma concentrations of retinyl palmitate were higher after 50 mg retinol given as an oral supplement compared with 50 mg as liver; there was no significant difference between the 150 mg doses. Plasma concentrations of retinol showed only small increases. The peak plasma concentrations (Cmax) of all-transretinoic acid, the principal teratogenic metabolite of retinol, and the area under the concentration-time curve (AUC) were up to 20-times higher after supplements compared to the same dose as liver. Plasma concentrations of all-trans-4-oxo-retinoic acid, 13-cis-retinoic acid and 13-cis-4-oxo-retinoic acid showed smaller differences between supplements and liver. Intra-muscular administration of 30 mg retinol gave retinyl palmitate concentrations similar to those found after the oral doses but did not increase circulating concentrations of the acid metabolites. Based on the formation of all-trans-retinoic acid, liver and supplements are not of equivalent teratogenic potential. Advice to pregnant women on the consumption of liver based on the reported teratogenicity of vitamin A supplements should be reconsidered.

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