Beta-carotene’s name originated from the Greek word beta and Latin carota (carrot).
It’s the color that gives off the orange/yellow color of many fruits and vegetables. H. Wachenroder came up with the name back in 1831 when he crystalized the beta-carotene from the carrot roots.
The chemical formula of Beta-carotene, C40H56 was discovered in 1907.
Our bodies convert beta-carotene into the wonderful vitamin A that is needed for healthy skin and mucus membranes, our immune system, and our eyesight. Not to mention, it’s also full of antioxidants. Beta-carotene is a precursor of vitamin A.
When by itself, Beta-carotene is not an essential that our bodies need, but vitamin A is.
Beta-carotene from food is a safe, natural supply of vitamin A
Vitamin A can be supplied from everyday foods that we eat such as fruits and vegetables, through beta-carotene, or via supplemental form. The good thing about beta-carotene sourced from food is that the body only converts as much as it needs.
Taking vitamin A in overabundance by consuming too many of the supplements is very toxic to the body.
Beta-carotene is an antioxidant
Like all carotenoids, beta-carotene is an antioxidant. An antioxidant is an element that prevents the oxidation of other molecules. It also protects our bodies from free-radicals that damage our cells during oxidation. If these damages are prolonged, the can cause some serious chronic illnesses.
Several analyses done shows that dietary antioxidant helps build up the immune system, guard against damaging free radicals, and decreases the risk of developing heart disease and cancer. Other analyses have advised that consuming at least five daily servings of beta-carotene rich fruits and vegetables have a much lower risk of developing cancer or diseases of the heart.
Foods rich in beta-carotene
The following foods are rich in beta-carotene:
- Chinese cabbage
- Dandelion leaves
- Herbs & Spices – chili powder, oregano, paprika, parsley
- Many margarines
- Sweet potatoes
You will not need to take beta-carotene in supplement form if you diet mainly consist of fresh fruits and vegetables. As stated above, taking too much of the supplemental beta-carotene can lead to undesirable excess in the beta-carotene levels. If you are getting the nutrient from your diet, you body will only use up what it needs and you will not have to worry about reaching a toxic level.
Smokers and beta-carotene lung cancer risk
The Journal of the National Cancer Institute published a French study done on adult women where they found out that smokers with high beta-carotene levels had a higher risk of lung cancer and other cancers formed from smoking. It also found out that non-smokers with high beta-carotene intake had a lower risk of lung cancer.
They found that the risk of lung cancer over a ten-year period was:
- 183 per 10,000 women for non-smokers with low beta-carotene intake
- 83 per 10,000 women for non-smokers with high beta-carotene intake
- 176 per 10,000 women for smokers with low beta-carotene intake
- 370 per 10,000 women for smokers with high beta-carotene intake
Additional research done had also advised that the high intake among smokers is nearly always of the supplements that are taken, and not from the food.
Beta-carotene may slow down mental decline
Researchers from Hartford Medical School reported that men who took beta-carotene in supplemental form for 14 or more years are less likely to experience mental decline.
Oxidative stress is believed to be the main cause of mental decline, the researchers explained. Studies have shown that supplementing with antioxidants may help prevent the decline in cognition.
Their study, involving 4,052 men, did a comparison on those who were receiving beta-carotene supplements for an average of 18 years to others who were given placebo. Over the short period of time, they found no difference in cognitive decline risk between the two groups of men, but in the long period of time, it was clear that beta-carotene supplements made a compelling difference.
The researchers affirmed that there may have been other agents which contributed to the slower decline in cognitive abilities among the men in the beta-carotene group.
Eye benefits of vitamin A and beta-carotene
Because vitamin A helps protect the cornea, it is an important vitamin for good vision.
Research done shows that vitamin A eye drops are able to treat dry eyes. In fact, one study found that over-the-counter lubricating eye drops that contain the vitamin was just as effective for the treatment of dry eye syndrome as more expensive prescription eye drops designed for dry eye relief.
When vitamin A is combined with other vitamins that has antioxidants, it plays a role in reducing the risk of macular degeneration (chronic eye disease that causes vision loss in the center of your field of vision). In one study, people at high risk for the disease who took a daily multiple vitamin that included the vitamin A (as beta-carotene), vitamin C and vitamin E, zinc and copper had a 24% reduced risk of advanced AMD during a six-year period.
Food for thought: Ever wonder how Flamingos got their characteristic red/orange color? Yep, you guessed it. It is a result from the beta-carotene in their diet.