Increased iron bioavailability from lactic-fermented vegetables is likely an effect of promoting the formation of ferric iron (Fe(3+))

Eur J Nutr. 2016 Feb;55(1):373-82. doi: 10.1007/s00394-015-0857-6. Epub 2015 Feb 12.


Background: Lactic fermentation of foods increases the availability of iron as shown in a number of studies throughout the years. Several explanations have been provided such as decreased content of inhibitory phytate, increased solubility of iron, and increased content of lactic acid in the fermented product. However, to our knowledge, there are no data to support that the bioavailability of iron is affected by lactic fermentation.

Objectives: The objective of the present study was to investigate whether the bioavailability of iron from a vegetable mix was affected by lactic fermentation and to propose a mechanism for such an event, by conducting human and cell (Caco-2, HepG2) studies and iron speciation measurements (voltammetry). We also investigated whether the absorption of zinc was affected by the lactic fermentation.

Results: In human subjects, we observed that lactic-fermented vegetables served with both a high-phytate and low-phytate meal increased the absorption of iron, but not zinc. In vitro digested fermented vegetables were able to provoke a greater hepcidin response per ng Fe than fresh vegetables, indicating that Fe in the fermented mixes was more bioavailable, independent on the soluble Fe content. We measured that hydrated Fe(3+) species were increased after the lactic fermentation, while there was no significant change in hydrated Fe(2+). Furthermore, lactate addition to Caco-2 cells did not affect ferritin formation in response to Fe nor did lactate affect the hepcidin response in the Caco-2/HepG2 cell system.

Conclusions: The mechanism for the increased bioavailability of iron from lactic-fermented vegetables is likely an effect of the increase in ferric iron (Fe(3+)) species caused by the lactic fermentation. No effect on zinc bioavailability was observed.

Keywords: Absorption; Bioavailability; Ferric; Iron; Lactic fermentation.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Biological Availability
  • Caco-2 Cells
  • Dose-Response Relationship, Drug
  • Female
  • Fermentation
  • Ferritins / metabolism
  • Food Handling
  • Hep G2 Cells
  • Hepcidins / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Iron, Dietary / administration & dosage
  • Iron, Dietary / analysis
  • Iron, Dietary / pharmacokinetics*
  • Lactic Acid / metabolism*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Phytic Acid / administration & dosage
  • Phytic Acid / analysis
  • Phytic Acid / pharmacokinetics
  • Vegetables / chemistry
  • Young Adult
  • Zinc / administration & dosage
  • Zinc / pharmacokinetics


  • Hepcidins
  • Iron, Dietary
  • Lactic Acid
  • Phytic Acid
  • Ferritins
  • Zinc