Beta-Carotene

Nonessential Micronutrient

OVERVIEW

Summary

This precursor to the essential Vitamin A is a safe and healthy way to receive the levels of Vitamin A that enhance night vision, strengthen overall eye health, boost the immune system, and support healthy skin. It has also shown potent antioxidant capacities, neutralizing free radicals that result from exercise before damage is done.

Other names for Beta-Carotene

Provitamin A

Where to find Beta-Carotene

Beta-carotene can be seen in brightly colored fruits and vegetables, such as sweet potatoes, pink grapefruit, cantaloupe, pumpkin, carrots, apricots, mangos, peaches, broccoli, and most dark leafy vegetables.

Note that absorption rates of beta-carotene vary greatly — especially between whole-food sources and supplements. Food absorption is in the 5% range, with supplements being absorbed at levels as high as 70%. Beta-carotene from food is absorbed best when food is cooked.

Popup: Foods highest in Beta-Carotene

PERFORMANCE BENEFITS

Why athletes use Beta-Carotene

Active individuals may benefit more than most from high levels of antioxidants like beta-carotene since research has shown exercise increases the amount of free radicals in the body. Beta-carotene is excellent insurance for essential levels of Vitamin A, especially for those on a low-fat diet.


Ways that Beta-Carotene can enhance Longevity:
  • Provide antioxidant activity, fighting free-radical damage
  • Support immune function, eye health, and more as a precursor to Vitamin A
  • Support and possibly enhance a healthy immune system

HEALTH BENEFITS


Signs of Beta-Carotene deficiency

No deficiency conditions are known to exist.

Potential uses for Beta-Carotene

Research indicates that Beta-Carotene may be useful in the treatment of:

* Alcohol damage (hangovers!)
* Common cold
* Cataracts
* Night blindness

DISCUSSION

More about Beta-Carotene

As a precursor to Vitamin A, beta-carotene is closely connected to Vitamin A’s benefits, yet while similar, these two are not exactly the same. But they are so closely connected that they are used interchangeably in references and nutritional labeling.

The most striking differences between beta-carotene and Vitamin A are in their origin and toxicity. While Vitamin A is found in fat-dense food sources, including meats and dairy, beta-carotene is a member of the carotenoid family — the pigments that give certain fruits and vegetables, such as carrots, squash, and sweet potatoes, their vibrant colors. While essential, Vitamin A can become toxic at high levels; beta-carotene, on the other hand, is converted to Vitamin A but does not have the toxic implications. And while sharing many benefits, it appears beta-carotene is actually a more powerful antioxidant.


What does beta-carotene do?

The antioxidants in beta-carotene neutralize free radicals before the damage is done. Beta-carotene has also been shown to enhance night vision, strengthen overall eye health, boost the immune system, and support healthy skin.

Higher blood-serum levels of beta-carotene have been linked to lowered risk of heart disease, cancer, and cataracts. In fact, carotenoid content in tissue is the most significant factor in determining maximal life span potential in mammals. In other words, the more carotene a species has in its body tissue, the longer that species lives on average. What’s more, a combination of beta-carotene, Vitamin C, and Vitamin E has been shown to boost lung function in athletes exposed to excessive levels of air pollution.

Enhance immune functioning

In addition to its antioxidant properties, beta-carotene has been recognized as a powerful immune booster since 1931. Early studies found that students with high blood levels of carotenes took fewer sick days from school. A more recent study showed beta-carotene boosted critical immune-cell production by approximately 30% after only 7 days.

This vitamin is also essential to proper growth and healing of tissues and may help the body fight infection and the irritating effects of smoke and pollution. This is because beta-carotene appears to have a protective effect on the linings in the nose, eyes, ears, lungs, intestines, and throat by helping stimulate mucus production, improve antibody response, fight viruses, and improve white blood cell functioning.

Protect vision

As a precursor to Vitamin A, beta-carotene may also combat night blindness because it helps regenerate the “visual purple” we need to see at night. In addition, it helps keep the covering of our eyes, called the cornea, healthy.

In summary

Although beta-carotene and other beneficial carotenoids are plentiful in fruits and vegetables, studies show only ten percent of Americans eat the five daily servings recommended by the National Cancer Institute. Many experts suggest supplementation to boost levels of beta-carotene and give your body an extra fighting chance.

NOTES ON USAGE

Amount

Beta-carotene levels in food or supplements can be a bit confusing as it may be given in milligrams or international units. The complication stems from the desire to project the amount of Vitamin A that will result from a given amount of pro-Vitamin A.

The accepted standard for conversion is 3 mg equals 5,000 IU — the RDA for Vitamin A.

Typical supplemental intake of beta-carotene ranges from 3 to 20 mg per day. The most widely accepted average level of 15 mg has shown immune-supporting functions. Levels of 60 mg (100,000 IU) have been reported for aggressive therapies.

Timing

Beta-carotene should be taken with food.

Synergists of Beta-Carotene

Vitamin C and Vitamin E may boost the effectiveness of beta-carotene. In fact, recent research combined Vitamin E (500 mg per day), beta-carotene (30 mg per day) for 90 days and added Vitamin C (1 gram per day) for just the last 15 days and found dramatic improvements in the athletes’ antioxidant defenses. This antioxidant combination was found to enhance the antioxidant enzyme activity of superoxide dismutase (SOD) dramatically.

Safety of Beta-Carotene

Higher amounts (over 60 mg a day) may cause your skin to turn a nice orange-yellow but does not pose a health concern.

Beta-carotene is not recommended for people who suffer from hypothyroidism due to possible difficulties converting it to Vitamin A.

Toxicity of Beta-Carotene

Beta-carotene does not produce the same toxicity concerns as Vitamin A.

Bans and restrictions

None reported.

RELATED RESEARCH

  • Adderly, B., The Complete Guide to Nutritional Supplements (New Star Press, Los Angeles, CA, 1998) : 343-5.
  • Balch, J.F., and Balch, P.A., Prescription for Nutritional Healing (Avery, New York, NY, 1997) : 6, 13-14.
  • Haas, E.M., Staying Healthy with Nutrition (Celestial Arts, Berkeley, CA, 1992)) : 11, 35.
  • Mindell, E., Vitamin Bible for the 21st Century (Warner Books, New York, NY, 1999) : 161.
  • Murray, M., Encyclopedia of Nutritional Supplements (Prima Health, Rocklin, CA, 1996) : 11, 35.
  • Omenn, G.S., et al., “Effects of a Combination of Beta-Carotene and Vitamin A on Lung Cancer and Cardiovascular Disease, N Engl J Med 334.18 (1996) : 1150-5.
  • Phillips, B., Sports Supplement Review (Mile High Publishing, Golden, CO, 1997) : 123-5.
  • Tauler, P., et al., “Diet Supplementation with Vitamin E, Vitamin C, and Beta-Carotene Cocktail Enhances Basal Neutrophil Antioxidant Enzymes in Athletes,” Pflgers Archiv: European Journal Of Physiology 443.5-6 (2002) : 791-7.
  • Tomita, Y., et al., “Augmentation of Tumor Immunity Against Syngeneic Tumors in Mice by Beta-Carotene,” J Natl Cancer Inst 17.4 (1987) : 679-81.