Beta-Carotene – A Concise Overview
Beta-carotene is one of the natural chemicals present in carotenes or carotenoids. This carotene gives the orange color to fruits and vegetables like carrots, pumpkins and sweet potatoes. It derives the name beta-carotene from the Latin name for carrot. Beta-carotene is an effective and abundant form of provitamin A found in food. It can also be made in a laboratory and it is used as a coloring agent for foods.
Beta-carotene is an antioxidant and it is converted to vitamin A in the body. It is not considered to be an essential nutrient but vitamin A is an essential nutrient. Beta-carotene and carotenoids provide nearly 50% of the required quantity of vitamin A. This vitamin is highly essential for good vision, eye health, for a strong immune system, and for healthy skin and mucus membranes. The body converts only as much vitamin A from beta-carotene as it needs. As large amounts of vitamin A in supplement form can be toxic, beta-carotene is considered to be a safe source.
Other Names: Also known as: Carotenes, Carotenoids, Beta-Caroteno, Mixed Carotenoids, Provitamin A and Carotenoid Mélanges.
- Good quantity of beta-carotene is found in dark green, leafy vegetables, and orange-yellow vegetables and fruits.
- Yellow/orange vegetables – carrots, sweet potatoes, winter squash, pumpkins
- Yellow/ orange fruits – apricots, papayas, mangoes, nectarines, cantaloupes, carambolas, peaches
- Dark green, leafy vegetables – spinach, broccoli, kale, beet leaves, endive, watercress leaves, turnips, dandelion, escarole, chicory, mustard.
- Other fruit and vegetable sources – asparagus, prune, peas, summer squash, sour cherries.
- The content of beta-carotene depends on the seasons and the ripening of the fruits.
Absorption and Storage of Beta-Carotene
Many dietary factors such as fat and proteins, affect the amount of beta-carotene absorbed in the body. The amount absorbed decreases when the dietary intake increases. The excess amount is stored in the fat cells.
How it Works
Beta-carotene is converted to vitamin A which is an essential nutrient which has an antioxidant property that protects cells from damage. It protects the body from the damaging free radicals. Free radicals damage cells through a process called oxidation and this oxidation leads to a number of chronic diseases. There is evidence that getting more antioxidants from diet helps boost the immune system, protects from free radicals and helps reduce chronic illness.
Dosage and Administration
Beta-carotene supplements are available in two forms, one is water-based and the other is oil-based. Research shows that water-based supplements are absorbed better than oil-based supplements.
Supplements are available both as capsule and gel forms. As beta-carotene is fat soluble, it should be taken with meals containing at least 3 g of fat to ensure proper absorption.
Children should eat a diet rich in beta-carotene to get enough of it.
Children younger than 14 with erythropoietic protoporphyria, a disorder that causes adverse reaction to sunlight, must get medical advice to decide on the dosage of beta-carotene.
15-50 mg is the recommended quantity for adults, which they should get from their diet. Eating more fruits and vegetables will ensure they get enough of it.
Storage makes carotenoids to lose their activity in foods, due to their external exposure and action of enzymes. On the other hand, the stability of carotenoids is retained well in frozen foods.
Benefits of Using Beta-Carotene
Research and various studies prove that beta-carotene prevents cancer and heart disease, boosts immunity, treats high blood pressure, protects skin from sunburn, slows down the progression of cataracts, prevents macular degeneration, treats asthma caused by exercise, helps with depression, can cure headache, remedies heartburn, reduces psoriasis, may help infertility, eases rheumatoid arthritis, aids in parkinson’s disease, and can help with epilepsy.
Beta-carotene is also used to reduce the chance of death in malnourished women and to prevent night blindness during pregnancy.
Beta-carotene is relatively safe but a high dose can slightly increase the chances for heart disease and cancer, in people who smoke and who consume alcohol. Large amounts of multivitamin and a separate beta-carotene supplement increases the chance for prostate cancer in men.
Other common side effects are diarrhea and a yellowish tinge to the skin, and both will subside when beta-carotene intake is lowered.
It can be found as capsules, in multi-vitamin tablets and as food color. Margarine and some fruit drinks are fortified with beta-carotene and their high safety margin makes them more suitable.
Many authorities like the American Heart Association, the American Cancer Society, and many others, recommend getting beta-carotene from food and not from food supplements. Eating 5 servings of fresh fruits and vegetables provide 6-8 mg of beta-carotene.