Carotenoids have been related to a number of health benefits. Their dietary intake and circulating levels have been associated with a reduced incidence of obesity, diabetes, certain types of cancer, and even lower total mortality. Their potential interaction with the gut microbiota (GM) has been generally overlooked but may be of relevance, as carotenoids largely bypass absorption in the small intestine and are passed on to the colon, where they appear to be in part degraded into unknown metabolites. These may include apo-carotenoids that may have biological effects because of higher aqueous solubility and higher electrophilicity that could better target transcription factors, i.e., NF-κB, PPARγ, and RAR/RXRs. If absorbed in the colon, they could have both local and systemic effects. Certain microbes that may be supplemented were also reported to produce carotenoids in the colon. Although some bactericidal aspects of carotenoids have been shown in vitro, a few studies have also demonstrated a prebiotic-like effect, resulting in bacterial shifts with health-associated properties. Also, stimulation of IgA could play a role in this respect. Carotenoids may further contribute to mucosal and gut barrier health, such as stabilizing tight junctions. This review highlights potential gut-related health-beneficial effects of carotenoids and emphasizes the current research gaps regarding carotenoid-GM interactions.
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