Health Benefits of Beta Carotene

Beta Carotene is a compound that gives vivid yellow, orange, and red coloring to vegetables. The body converts Beta Carotene into vitamin A (retinol). Vitamin A, known as a vital nutrient for vision, plays a critical role in cell growth and in maintaining healthy organs like the heart, lungs, and kidneys.

Beta Carotene, which gets its name from the Latin word for carrot, is an antioxidant that is extremely good for your eyes and skin. 

Health Benefits

Some health benefits of beta carotene include:

Eye Health

Beta carotene is a provitamin A carotenoid, or a nutrient that the body readily converts into vitamin A. Research has found that eating a carotenoid-rich diet, including beta carotene, supports eye health and prevents eye diseases. Studies have shown that people with high blood levels of carotenoids may reduce their risk of macular degeneration by up to 35 percent.

One Korean study found a strong link between beta carotene intake and reduced risk of macular degeneration in smokers.

Improved Cognitive Function

There is evidence that beta carotene, like other antioxidants, may improve memory and cognitive function. A review of multiple studies found that long-term beta carotene supplementation had positive effects on cognitive function and memory. 

Antioxidants like beta carotene might be very helpful in reducing the symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease and age-related cognitive decline.

Skin Protection

Research has shown that antioxidants, including beta carotene, can help maintain skin health and appearance, and may protect the skin against UV radiation from the sun.

Cancer Prevention

Researchers have found that a diet high in beta carotene and other antioxidants may reduce the risk of certain cancers, including breast cancer, lung cancer, and pancreatic cancer.

Health Risks

Vitamin A is a fat-soluble nutrient that can accumulate in the body, primarily in the liver, and is toxic in excessively large doses. Chronic excess intake of Vitamin A can cause dizziness, nausea, joint pain, coma, and even death. Even amounts just slightly above the recommended dietary allowance are associated with reduced bone mineral density and fracture risk. 

However, beta carotene is not known to be toxic, even at large supplemental doses. The only known effect of long-term excessive beta carotene intake for most people is orange-yellow skin discoloration.

Smokers who take high doses of beta-carotene supplements have been found to be at higher risk of death due to lung cancer.

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Amounts and Dosage

There is no recommended dietary allowance of beta-carotene. The recommended dietary allowance for vitamin A varies according to gender and life stage: 

  • Ages 1–3: 1,000 IU
  • Ages 4–8: 1,321 IU
  • Ages 9–13: 2,000 IU
  • Ages 14–18: 3,000 IU for boys, 2,310 IU for girls
  • Adults: 3,000 IU for men, 2,310 IU for women
  • Pregnant women: 2,565 IU
  • Lactating women: 4,300 IU

Beta carotene is usually present in brightly colored yellow, orange, and red vegetables and some greens. Foods that are rich in beta carotene include sweet potatoes, carrots, spinach, butternut squash, kale, Swiss chard, cantaloupe, romaine lettuce, red bell pepper, and apricots.

Beta carotene is an oil-soluble nutrient, and the body may be better able to absorb it when foods are cooked, especially when they are cooked in oil.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD on October 13, 2020

Sources

SOURCES:

The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition: β-Carotene and other carotenoids in protection from sunlight.

Cochrane Library: Vitamin and mineral supplementation for maintaining cognitive function in cognitively healthy people in mid and late life.

Diseases: Food Antioxidants and Their Anti-Inflammatory Properties: A Potential Role in Cardiovascular Diseases and Cancer Prevention.

ESHA Research, Inc., Salem, Oregon.

Innovative Food Science & Emerging Technologies: Bioaccessibility of carotenes from carrots: Effect of cooking and addition of oil.

JAMA Opthalmology: Intakes of Lutein, Zeaxanthin, and Other Carotenoids and Age-Related Macular Degeneration During 2 Decades of Prospective Follow-up.

My Food Data: Top 10 Foods Highest in Beta Carotene

National Institutes of Health: Vitamin A Fact Sheet for Health Professionals

National Library of Medicine: beta Carotene

Nutrition Journal: Associations between fruit and vegetable, and antioxidant nutrient intake and age-related macular degeneration by smoking status in elderly Korean men.

University of Rochester Medical Center Health Encyclopedia

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