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Association between circulating ascorbic acid, α-tocopherol, 25-hydroxyvitamin D, and plasma cytokine concentrations in young adults: a cross-sectional study

Bibiana García-Bailo12, Kaitlin Roke3, David M Mutch3, Ahmed El-Sohemy1 and Alaa Badawi2*

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Nutritional Sciences, University of Toronto, Toronto, ON M5S 3E2, Canada

2 Office of Biotechnology, Genomics and Population Health, Public Health Agency of Canada, 180 Queen Street West, 11th Floor, Toronto, ON M5V 3L7, Canada

3 Department of Human Health and Nutritional Sciences, University of Guelph, Guelph, ON N1G 2W1, Canada

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Nutrition & Metabolism 2012, 9:102  doi:10.1186/1743-7075-9-102

Published: 16 November 2012



Inflammation and oxidative stress are associated with the development of numerous chronic diseases. Circulating ascorbic acid, α-tocopherol, and 25-hydroxyvitamin D (25(OH)D) may help reduce concentrations of pro-inflammatory cytokines through their antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. These micronutrients may act synergistically, and they may have different anti-inflammatory effects, but previous studies have assessed the link between each of these micronutrients and inflammation in isolation without controlling for the other micronutrients. Our objective was to examine the association between circulating concentrations of ascorbic acid, α-tocopherol, and 25(OH) D and a panel of pro-inflammatory cytokines in an ethnically diverse population of young adults.


Participants (n = 1,007) from the Toronto Nutrigenomics and Health study provided fasting blood samples for biomarker measurements and were subsequently categorized into tertiles for each micronutrient based on their circulating concentrations. We conducted Pearson’s correlation analyses across all micronutrients and cytokines. The associations between individual micronutrients and cytokines were examined using analysis of covariance with age, sex, waist circumference, ethnicity, physical activity, season of blood collection, total cholesterol, hormonal contraceptive use among women, and the other two micronutrients as covariates.


We observed weak micronutrient-cytokine correlations, moderate correlations between certain cytokines, and strong correlations between specific cytokines, particularly interleukin 1- receptor antagonist (IL-1RA), interferon-γ (IFN-γ), and platelet-derived growth factor BB (PDGF-bb). After full covariate adjustment, circulating α-tocopherol was inversely associated with IFN-γ and regulated upon activation normal T-cell expressed and secreted (RANTES). We observed an unexpected positive association between ascorbic acid and IFN-γ. 25(OH)D was not associated with altered concentrations of any inflammatory biomarkers.


These findings suggest that α-tocopherol, but not ascorbic acid or 25(OH)D, is inversely associated with inflammation in healthy young adults.

Ascorbic acid; α-tocopherol; 25-hydroxyvitamin D; Micronutrients; Cytokines; Inflammation; Young adults