The Benefits of Beta-Carotene

Beta-Carotene
Wally Eberhart Collection/The Image Bank/Getty Images

Beta-carotene is a compound found naturally in a number of foods and available in dietary supplement form. It's classified as a carotenoid, which is a type of pigment that helps give many fruits and vegetables their color. It's said that increasing your intake of beta-carotene can protect against a host of health issues.

Beta-Carotene and Vitamin A

When consumed, beta-carotene is converted by your body into vitamin A (a nutrient involved in processes such as forming and maintaining healthy skin and teeth as well as in promoting good vision).

It can also act as an antioxidant.

Beta-carotene is the most common type of pro-vitamin A, which is the form of vitamin A sourced from plant-based foods. Preformed vitamin A, meanwhile, is found in animal products like meat, fish, poultry, and dairy foods.

Uses for Beta-Carotene

Beta-carotene is said to aid in the treatment or prevention of the following health problems:

In addition, beta-carotene is purported to fight cancer, increase fertility, and boost the immune system.

Age-Related Macular Degeneration

Taking a combination of beta-carotene, vitamin C and vitamin E, and zinc may have long-term effects against age-related macular degeneration, suggests a follow-up study published in the journal Ophthalmology in 2013.

Prior to this study, 4,757 older adults participated in a clinical trial in which they received either a placebo or a supplement containing beta-carotene, vitamins C and E, and zinc. At the end of the trial's seven-year study period, researchers found that participants at high risk of developing advanced stages of age-related macular degeneration lowered their risk by about 25 percent when treated with the beta-carotene-based supplement.

In the follow-up study (conducted five years after the clinical trial ended), researchers focused on 3,549 participants from that clinical trial. They found that the beta-carotene-based supplement's beneficial effects had persisted, and that study members treated with the supplement had a reduced risk of vision loss.

More Health Benefits for Beta-Carotene

So far, studies on other potential health benefits of beta-carotene have yielded mixed results. For example, some research has shown that following a diet high in beta-carotene may help curb risk of breast cancer in pre-menopausal women at high risk for the disease, while other research indicates that beta-carotene may fail to be effective against such conditions as diabetes, Alzheimer's disease, and stroke.

There's also some evidence that beta-carotene may help prevent exercise-induced asthma attacks, protect against bronchitis in smokers with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and slow the progression of osteoarthritis. However, further research is needed before beta-carotene supplements can be recommended for use against any of these conditions.

Food Sources of Beta-Carotene

Top sources of beta-carotene include dark green and orange-yellow vegetables, such as carrots, sweet potatoes, squash, spinach, broccoli, romaine lettuce, apricots, and green peppers.

Eating five servings of fruits and vegetables daily will more than meet your daily needs for vitamin A, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

You can learn more about major food sources of antioxidants here: Best Food Sources of Antioxidants.

Safety

The NIH caution against taking beta-carotene supplements for general health. However, they also state that beta-carotene is likely safe when taken "in appropriate amounts for certain specific medical conditions." To determine whether beta-carotene is right for you, make sure to consult your physician prior to taking beta-carotene supplements.

In addition, there's some concern that taking large amounts of a multivitamin plus a separate beta-carotene supplement could increase the risk of developing advanced prostate cancer.

Go here to get more tips on using beta-carotene and other dietary supplements safely.

Sources

Age-Related Eye Disease Study Research Group. "A randomized, placebo-controlled, clinical trial of high-dose supplementation with vitamins C and E, beta carotene, and zinc for age-related macular degeneration and vision loss: AREDS report no. 8." Arch Ophthalmol. 2001 Oct;119(10):1417-36.

Chew EY, Clemons TE, Agrón E, Sperduto RD, Sangiovanni JP, Kurinij N, Davis MD; Age-Related Eye Disease Study Research Group. "Long-term effects of vitamins C and E, β-carotene, and zinc on age-related macular degeneration: AREDS report no. 35." Ophthalmology. 2013 Aug;120(8):1604-11.e4.

McAlindon TE, Jacques P, Zhang Y, Hannan MT, Aliabadi P, Weissman B, Rush D, Levy D, Felson DT. "Do antioxidant micronutrients protect against the development and progression of knee osteoarthritis?" Arthritis Rheum. 1996 Apr;39(4):648-56.

National Institutes of Health. "Beta-carotene: MedlinePlus Supplements." June 2015.

Neuman I, Nahum H, Ben-Amotz A. "Prevention of exercise-induced asthma by a natural isomer mixture of beta-carotene." Ann Allergy Asthma Immunol. 1999 Jun;82(6):549-53.

Paiva SA, Russell RM. "Beta-carotene and other carotenoids as antioxidants." J Am Coll Nutr. 1999 Oct;18(5):426-33.

Pryor WA, Stahl W, Rock CL. "Beta carotene: from biochemistry to clinical trials." Nutr Rev. 2000 Feb;58(2 Pt 1):39-53.

Disclaimer: The information contained on this site is intended for educational purposes only and is not a substitute for advice, diagnosis or treatment by a licensed physician. It is not meant to cover all possible precautions, drug interactions, circumstances or adverse effects. You should seek prompt medical care for any health issues and consult your doctor before using alternative medicine or making a change to your regimen.

Continue Reading