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How Are Fat-Soluble Vitamins Absorbed?

author image Jamie Yacoub
Jamie Yacoub is a clinical outpatient Registered Dietitian, expert in nutrition and author of her cookbook "Modern Guide to Food and Eating: Low Glycemic Recipes". She obtained a Bachelor of Science in clinical nutrition from UC Davis and an MPH in nutrition from Loma Linda University. Yacoub then completed her dietetic internship as an intern for a Certified Specialist in sports nutrition and at a top-100 hospital.
How Are Fat-Soluble Vitamins Absorbed?
You need adequate intake of the fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E and K. Photo Credit: inaquim/iStock/Getty Images

Vitamins are classified as being either water-soluble or fat-soluble. There are four fat-soluble vitamins -- A, D, E and K. Excess fat-soluble vitamins accumulate in your body, while the water-soluble vitamins are excreted. Fat-soluble vitamins are stored in your fat tissues and your liver.

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Micelles Make Things Happen

You need to take in enough fats to assist in the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins. Inadequate intake of healthy fats or the fat-soluble vitamins, or fat-malabsorption issues can result in deficiencies, while taking megadoses of these vitamins can be toxic. Fat-soluble vitamins are carried in your digestive system in a droplet called a micelle, which allows the vitamins to be absorbed by your body's intestinal absorption cells, called enterocytes. The micelle allows fat-soluble vitamins to disperse into your enterocytes, much like soap disperses in water.

The Bile Salt Bubble

The micelle is round like a bubble, with the outside made up of bile salts. Bile salts have one hydrophilic or water-liking end and one hydrophobic or water-fearing end. They form a round droplet with their hydrophilic ends facing outward and the hydrophobic ends facing inward. The center of the micelle contains the fat-soluble vitamins. The micelle protects the fat-soluble vitamins from water as they cross into the enterocytes.

Chylomicron Carriers

Micelles constantly break down and then reform to transport fat-soluble substances into your enterocytes. Once micelles are in an enterocyte, they break down and chylomicrons are formed. Chylomicrons are lipoproteins, which are particles designed to transport lipids or fats in your blood. The outside of a chylomicron is composed of phospholipids that, like bile salts, are also present in bile and have one hydrophilic and one hydrophobic end.

Lymphatic System -- Drop-Off Location

Once the vitamins have entered the chylomicron, the chylomicron then transports them into your lymphatic system, a subsystem of the circulatory system and a vital part of your immune system that helps maintain bodily fluids. Once in the lymphatic system, the fat-soluble vitamins are transported in the blood by different mechanisms to carry out their functions in your body or they are transported back to your liver or fat tissue for storage.

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