Beta-carotene is an extremely powerful anti-oxidant. This makes it one of your body’s most powerful defenses against free radical cell damage. Beta-carotene is, therefore, a key nutrient in terms of cancer prevention and immunity. This powerful carotenoid is also an essential compound for athletes, as well as anyone looking for healthier skin and optimal eye health.
Beta-carotene is in a class of compounds known as carotenoids. Carotenoids are the pigments which give color to fruits and vegetables. The pigmentation of beta-carotene is a distinctive orange color
Beta-carotene is just one of between thirty and fifty carotenoids that are found in plants. It has the ability to be converted into Vitamin A if and when the body requires that vitamin.
Beta-carotene has the following functions in the body:
- Conversion into Vitamin A
- Acts as a powerful anti-oxidant to destroy free radicals
- Modulates the immune system
- Reverses certain pre-cancerous states, such as cervical dysplasia and oral leukoplakia
- It assists in reducing sun sensitivity and risk of sunburn
- It enhances vision
Key Health Benefits
Reduced risk of heart disease:
A 2011 study performed by the U.S. government found that test subjects who ate just one cup of beta-carotene-rich carrots per day were able to reduce their blood cholesterol levels by 11% in 3 weeks.
Reduced risk of diabetes:
One study found that people with the highest blood levels of beta carotene had 32% lower insulin levels: the key indicator of blood sugar level control.
Helps prevent cancer:
Beta-carotene is just one of hundreds of carotenoids that have an anti-cancerous effect due to their anti-oxidant powers. The power of these carotenoids comes from their working together.
Helps prevent vision problems:
Any time we are out in the sunlight, our body is using up Vitamin A. The same thing happens when we expose ourselves to artificial light. That’s why many of us are Vitamin A deficient. Beta carotene will go a long way to balancing out our Vitamin A levels to prevent vision problems.
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People who are low in Vitamin A are prone to infection in their:
- Respiratory system
- Middle ears
- Reproductive organs
Athletes, especially, need the vitamin-A-boosting fortification of beta-carotene. If you are exercising for more than 90 minutes, your immunity decreases post exercise. Beta -carotene will help ensure that you won’t get sick, that you can get your immunity back to full strength quicker, and that you can train harder for a longer period of time.
Best Food Sources
The highest levels of beta-carotene are found in such fresh fruits and vegetables as:
- Sweet Potatoes
Frozen vegetables tend to have lower levels of beta-carotene in them.
Should You Supplement?
Researchers have revised their recommendations regarding supplementation with beta-carotene
. A Finnish study revealed that, not only was there not a decrease in the incidences of lung cancer among supplement takers, but that the death rate from the disease was 28% higher among study participants who took both Vitamin A and Beta Carotene supplements. (1)
Studies, such as the one conducted in Finland, have led such well-regarded medical journals as the New England Journal of Medicine
, the Journal of the National Cancer Center,
to advise that people not take stand alone beta-carotene supplements. (2)
Scientists are now convinced that the anti cancerous and other anti-oxidative properties associated with beta carotene are due to the actions of all of the carotenoids working in concert. They, therefore, recommend getting your beta carotene from whole food sources rather than from supplements.
The US National Institute of Health recommends that adult males should consume 3000 IU of beta-carotene each day. For adult females, that figure is 2,310 IU. Consuming four portions of fruits and vegetables daily should allow you to achieve those goals. Eating foods that are rich in beta-carotene will boost your immune system greatly, reducing your risk of cancer and heart disease.