When most people hear the words "beta-carotene," two things usually come to mind: Carrots and Vitamin A. While beta-carotene is an excellent source of Vitamin A and carrots are an excellent source of beta-carotene, there is much more to this vital compound than most people think.
Beta-carotene is one of the most well-known carotenoids, a family of phytonutrients whose presence in fruit and vegetables is typically indicated by a range of vivid yellow and orange hues but is also present in other different-colored foods. In addition to carrots, good food sources of beta-carotene include sweet potatoes, cantaloupe, kale, spinach, turnip greens, winter squash and collard greens as well as herbs such as cilantro and thyme. Well-known as a source of the powerful antioxidant, Vitamin A, beta-carotene also offers other important benefits such as:
- Antioxidant & Immune-Enhancing Activity. Carotenoids such as beta-carotene have recently received a lot of attention as potential anti-cancer and anti-aging compounds with long-term inadequate intake of carotenoids being associated with chronic diseases such as heart disease and various cancers. Considered a powerful antioxidant, beta-carotene protects cells from damage caused by free radicals and is also believed to enhance immune system function.
- Promoting Proper Cell Communication.
Many researchers now believe that poor communication between cells may help cause cell overgrowth, which can eventually lead to cancer. Research has shown that carotenoids have the ability to stimulate cell-to-cell communication, which may play a role in cancer prevention.
- Supporting Reproductive Health.
Beta-carotene may also have an important role in female reproduction. Although its exact function has not yet been identified, it is known that the corpus luteum (an important producer of progesterone) has the highest concentration of beta-carotene of any organ in the body, which suggests the nutrient plays a critical role in reproduction. The FDA has also recommended that pregnant women obtain Vitamin A in the form of beta-carotene whenever possible.
In addition to offering the benefits above, carotenoids such as beta-carotene may also play a role in preventing the following health conditions:
- Age-related macular degeneration/Cataracts
- Angina pectoris
- Cervical cancer/Cervical dysplasia
- Chlamydial infection
- Male and female infertility
- Osteoarthritis/Rheumatoid arthritis
- Vaginal candidiasis
Considering all the benefits that beta-carotene provides, it's very important for people to get enough of the compound in their diet, with typical daily dosages ranging from 10-25,000 IUs. The only people for which too much beta-carotene supplementation may have adverse effects are heavy smokers and those who drink alcohol frequently. A recent international study published in Cancer Epidemiology Biomarkers and Prevention reported that synthetic beta-carotene supplements have been found to increase the risk of colorectal and lung cancer in smokers, especially those who also drink alcohol. Steer clear of this risk and achieve optimal health by avoiding smoking and drinking, and maintaining a healthy diet rich in beta-carotene. Your body will thank you!