The usefulness of in vitro models to predict the bioavailability of iron and zinc: a consensus statement from the HarvestPlus expert consultation

Sue Fairweather-Tait, Sean Lynch, Christine Hotz, Richard Hurrell, Leo Abrahamse, Steve Beebe, Stine Bering, Klaus Bukhave, Ray Glahn, Michael Hambidge, Janet Hunt, Bo Lonnerdal, Denis Miller, Najat Mohktar, Penelope Nestel, Manju Reddy, Ann-Sofie Sandber, Paul Sharp, Birgit Teucher, Trinidad P Trinidad

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A combination of dietary and host-related factors determines iron and zinc absorption, and several in vitro methods have been developed as preliminary screening tools for assessing bioavailability. An expert committee has reviewed evidence for their usefulness and reached a consensus. Dialyzability (with and without simulated digestion) gives some useful information but cannot predict the correct magnitude of response and may sometimes predict the wrong direction of response. Caco-2 cell systems (with and without simulated digestion) have been developed for iron availability, but the magnitude of different effects does not always agree with results obtained in human volunteers, and the data for zinc are too limited to draw conclusions about the validity of the method. Caco-2 methodologies vary significantly between laboratories and require experienced technicians and good quality cell culture facilities to obtain reproducible results. Algorithms can provide semi-quantitative information enabling diets to be classified as high, moderate, or low bioavailability. While in vitro methods can be used to generate ideas and develop hypotheses, they cannot be used alone for important decisions concerning food fortification policy, selection of varieties for plant breeding programs, or for new product development in the food industry. Ultimately human studies are required for such determinations.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)371-374
Number of pages4
JournalInternational Journal for Vitamin and Nutrition Research
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2005


  • Biological Availability
  • Caco-2 Cells
  • Humans
  • Iron
  • Zinc

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