Intestinal absorption of water-soluble vitamins in health and disease

Biochem J. 2011 Aug 1;437(3):357-72. doi: 10.1042/BJ20110326.


Our knowledge of the mechanisms and regulation of intestinal absorption of water-soluble vitamins under normal physiological conditions, and of the factors/conditions that affect and interfere with theses processes has been significantly expanded in recent years as a result of the availability of a host of valuable molecular/cellular tools. Although structurally and functionally unrelated, the water-soluble vitamins share the feature of being essential for normal cellular functions, growth and development, and that their deficiency leads to a variety of clinical abnormalities that range from anaemia to growth retardation and neurological disorders. Humans cannot synthesize water-soluble vitamins (with the exception of some endogenous synthesis of niacin) and must obtain these micronutrients from exogenous sources. Thus body homoeostasis of these micronutrients depends on their normal absorption in the intestine. Interference with absorption, which occurs in a variety of conditions (e.g. congenital defects in the digestive or absorptive system, intestinal disease/resection, drug interaction and chronic alcohol use), leads to the development of deficiency (and sub-optimal status) and results in clinical abnormalities. It is well established now that intestinal absorption of the water-soluble vitamins ascorbate, biotin, folate, niacin, pantothenic acid, pyridoxine, riboflavin and thiamin is via specific carrier-mediated processes. These processes are regulated by a variety of factors and conditions, and the regulation involves transcriptional and/or post-transcriptional mechanisms. Also well recognized now is the fact that the large intestine possesses specific and efficient uptake systems to absorb a number of water-soluble vitamins that are synthesized by the normal microflora. This source may contribute to total body vitamin nutrition, and especially towards the cellular nutrition and health of the local colonocytes. The present review aims to outline our current understanding of the mechanisms involved in intestinal absorption of water-soluble vitamins, their regulation, the cell biology of the carriers involved and the factors that negatively affect these absorptive events.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Humans
  • Intestinal Absorption / physiology*
  • Solubility
  • Vitamins / chemistry
  • Vitamins / metabolism*
  • Water / chemistry*


  • Vitamins
  • Water