Health Benefits of Beta-carotene

Beta-carotene is a carotenoid that is the dark-colored pigment found in certain plants . Beta-carotene, along with other carotenoids is converted to vitamin A (retinol) and these give human beings approximately 50% of all requirements of this essential vitamin . The term beta-carotene is Latin for carrot. It is recommended that for general health, adults take 15-50mg of beta-carotene. For children, a healthy diet will ensure enough intake of beta-carotene .

Health benefits of Beta-carotene

Health benefits of beta-carotene are vital for it is an important anti-oxidant and helps to protect cells from damage done by free radicals. Here are some medical conditions that benefit with the proper intake of beta-carotene.

Heart Disease and Cancer : Beta-carotene is an anti-oxidant and therefore protects human cells from free radicals. Free radicals cause damage to cells by oxidation. This damage can lead to several chronic diseases most serious among them being cancer and heart disease. The health benefits of beta-carotene taken through a good diet boost the immune system and protect us from risk of contracting cancer and heart disease. The same benefits cannot be got from beta-carotene supplements that in fact produce the opposite effect and increase the risk of contracting these two diseases. There is also evidence that smokers and those exposed to asbestos must not take beta-carotene supplements as this increases their risk of contracting lung cancer .

According to the ‘Wolfson Gastrointestinal Laboratory’ in Scotland, cholesterol levels were reduced by 11% when 7 ounces of carrots – the richest source of beta-carotene – were taken each day for three weeks.

Apart from lung cancer, studies have found that other cancers like colon cancer, ovarian cancer and breast cancer risk was also reduced with a fiber rich diet full of carrots .

Sun Sensitivity : ‘Erythropoietic protoporphyria’ is a hereditary blood disorder that causes sun sensitivity. The health benefits of beta-carotene help to reduce sun sensitivity caused by this painful and rare genetic condition. Liver problems also occur due to this condition and beta-carotene in the diet and taken as a supplement can slowly help people get over their sensitivity and be exposed to the sun again.

Age-related Macular Degeneration (AMD) : ‘Age Related Eye Disease Study’ was a major clinical trial and this found that those who consumed 15mg of beta-carotene combined with 80mg of zinc, 500mg of vitamin C, 400mg of vitamin E and 2mg of copper could slow the progression of AMD. This eye disease occurs due to age when a portion of the retina called the macula that provides central vision begins to deteriorate.

Metabolism Benefits : Metabolic syndrome and lower triglycerides and body fats in middle aged and older men occurs less frequently in those who consume high quantities of lycopene and beta-carotene.

Oral Leukoplakia : This is a condition than results in white lesions on the tongue or in the mouth. Those who are chronic smokers and alcoholics can get oral leukoplakia. A study found that people who took beta-carotene had fewer symptoms against those who consumed a placebo. Beta-carotene supplements must be taken only under medical supervision by smokers as they run the risk of contracting lung cancer.

Scleroderma : This connective tissue disorder results in hardened skin and those who have lower beta-carotene levels in their body run the risk of contracting scleroderma. Studies have not proved the effect so experts suggest that it is better to get beta-carotene requirements from food rather than supplements.

Benefits in Stroke : Those who consume good quantities of carrots – at least one a day – reduce their risk of suffering from a stroke by at least 68%. Studies have found that those with greater quantities of beta-carotene have a good survival rate and this is called the ‘carrot effect’ on the brain.

Diabetes benefits : Carotenoids like carrots rich in beta-carotene regulate blood sugar. This is because they inversely affect insulin resistance. This results in lower blood sugar levels.

Miscellaneous health benefits of Beta-carotene

  • Carrots that are rich in beta-carotene improve eye sight especially the ability to see better in dim light and prevents night blindness.
  • Carrots also posses excellent antiseptic qualities and are used as a vermicide, laxative and to cure many liver conditions.
  • Those with dry skin can find improvement with carrot oil.
  • Gastrointestinal health also improves with carrots
  • Beta-carotene prevents instances of osteoarthritis from worsening. However, it cannot prevent the occurrence of osteoarthritis.
  • Bronchitis can be prevented with a diet rich in beta-carotene. It also improves the breathing of smokers.
  • Risk of contracting breast cancer before menopause and ovarian cancer after menopause can be reduced by consuming fruits and vegetables rich in beta-carotene.
  • Pregnancy related death in malnourished women can be prevented with a healthy diet that contains beta-carotene.
  • Diarrhea and fever in underfed women that can occur after delivery can also be prevented with beta-carotene.
  • Beta-carotene is possibly effective to prevent asthma attacks that occur after exercising.
  • The overall health and physical stamina of the elderly can be improved with an increased intake of beta-carotene.
  • Those with dry skin can find improvement with carrot oil.
  • Gastrointestinal health also improves with carrots

Foods rich in Beta-carotene

Recommended Dosage of Beta-carotene

For adults 15 – 50 mg per day is the ideal dosage. It is best received by eating fruits and vegetables. Adults suffering with erythropoietic protoporphyria should consult a doctor and take dose recommendations.

The health benefits of beta-carotene are got from all orange, yellow and leafy green fruits and vegetables. Carrots provide the richest source of beta-carotene along with spinach, sweet potatoes, lettuce, broccoli, winter squash, lettuce, tomatoes and cantaloupe. The more intense the coloring of the vegetable or fruit, the greater is the concentration of beta-carotene.  Other foods sources include those fortified with retinol or vitamin A like fruit juices, dairy products and cereals .

Precautions when taking Beta-carotene

As such, beta-carotene does not produce any harmful side-effects. However, those who smoke and are exposed to asbestos run the risk of contracting lung cancer if they take beta-carotene supplements. Similarly alcoholics who take beta-carotene supplements increase the chances of contracting cancer or liver disease. Those who take supplements must therefore do so under medical supervision.

Recommendation

Everyone must consume a diet rich in this carotenoid since the health benefits of beta-carotene are many as an anti-oxidant, to promote overall good health, prevent sun sensitivity, slow  the progression of AMD and lower the risk of contracting certain types of cancers and heart disease.