Dietary and plasma carotenoids are positively associated with alpha diversity in the fecal microbiota of pregnant women

Kristen M. Schmidt, Eliot N. Haddad, Kameron Y. Sugino, Karin R. Vevang, Lisa A. Peterson, Revati Koratkar, Myron D. Gross, Jean M. Kerver, Sarah S. Comstock

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

24 Scopus citations


Because microbes use carotenoids as an antioxidant for protection, dietary carotenoids could be associated with gut microbiota composition. We aimed to determine associations among reported carotenoid intake, plasma carotenoid concentrations, and fecal bacterial communities in pregnant women. Pregnant women (n = 27) were enrolled in a two-arm study designed to assess feasibility of biospecimen collection and delivery of a practical nutrition intervention. Plasma and fecal samples were collected and women were surveyed with a 24-hr dietary checklist and recalls. Plasma carotenoids were analyzed by HPLC using photodiode array detection. Fecal bacteria were analyzed by 16S rRNA DNA sequencing. Results presented are cross-sectional from the 36-week gestational study visit combined across both study arms due to lack of significant differences between intervention and usual care groups (n = 23 women with complete data). Recent intake of carotenoid-containing foods included carrots, sweet potatoes, mangos, apricots, and/or bell peppers for 48% of women; oranges/orange juice (17%); egg (39%); tomato/tomato-based sauces (52%); fruits (83%); and vegetables (65%). Average plasma carotenoid concentrations were 6.4 µg/dL α-carotene (AC), 17.7 µg/dL β-carotene (BC), 11.4 µg/dL cryptoxanthin, 39.0 µg/dL trans-lycopene, and 29.8 µg/dL zeaxanthin and lutein. AC and BC concentrations were higher in women who recently consumed foods high in carotenoids. CR concentrations were higher in women who consumed oranges/orange juice. Microbiota α-diversity positively correlated with AC and BC. Microbiota β-diversity differed significantly across reported intake of carotenoid containing foods and plasma concentrations of AC. This may reflect an effect of high fiber or improved overall dietary quality, rather than a specific effect of carotenoids. PRACTICAL APPLICATION: Little is known about the association between the gut microbiome and specific dietary microconstituents, such as carotenoids, especially during pregnancy. This research demonstrates that a carotenoid-rich diet during pregnancy supports a diverse microbiota, which could be one mechanism by which carotenoids promote health.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)602-613
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of food science
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 2021

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021 Institute of Food Technologists®


  • alpha diversity
  • bacteria
  • carotenoids
  • diet
  • fecal
  • gut microbiome
  • gut microbiota
  • plasma carotenoids
  • pregnancy
  • Bacteria/classification
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Humans
  • RNA, Ribosomal, 16S/genetics
  • Pregnancy
  • Food Analysis
  • Diet
  • Feces/microbiology
  • Gastrointestinal Microbiome/drug effects
  • Adult
  • Female
  • Carotenoids/analysis

PubMed: MeSH publication types

  • Journal Article


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