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 β-Carotene- The colourful antioxidant that your body needs

Beta carotene sources


β-Carotene is an organic orange-red coloured pigment found predominantly in colourful fruits, plants, vegetables and fungi and is the most common form of Carotene in plants. It is a type of carotenoid (which are isoprenoids) that is insoluble in water but soluble in ethanol, benzene and chloroform.  It is biosynthesized from geranylgeranyl pyrophosphate.  Carrots and Oranges are rich in colour because they contain large amounts of β-Carotene.  It is also one of the potent anti-oxidants that is available naturally. It is advised that we should get β-Carotene from regular food items such as fruits and vegetables rather than supplements. This article contains all facts that you need to know about β-Carotene, the colourful anti-oxidant.


β-Carotene is the precursor of Vitamin A in the human body. i.e. it gets readily converted in the body and serves as a source of Vitamin-A. It is the most important of the provitamins A. Vitamin A is a very important vitamin irrespective of age and is required on a daily basis. Vitamin A, also known as Retinol is responsible for the pigments in the retina and is needed for proper health and functioning of the eye. It also promotes proper teeth, skeletal muscles, mucous membrane and skin health. Vitamin A is also responsible for a normal immune system function. The equivalency ratio of β-Carotene to Vitamin A is currently estimated at 12:1 by weight (i.e. for every 12 mg of β-Carotene we can get an estimated 1 mg of retinol).

Vitamin A deficiency is a public health problem and is most prevalent in pre-school children and pregnant/lactating women in Africa and south/south-east Asia. It is the leading cause of preventable childhood blindness and is associated with weak immunity and increased risk of mortality from gastrointestinal diseases and measles.


As Antioxidant

  • ·        β-Carotene is a naturally occurring antioxidant found in carrots, oranges, onions, pumpkins,  winter squash, sweet potatoes and dark leafy greens.


  • ·        An antioxidant is a substance that helps reduce toxicity by removing excess free radicals (Reactive Oxygen Species) from the body.


  • ·         Free radicals can harm the body by damaging organs through excess oxidation and hampering normal organ function.


  • ·        In recent times the need and importance of antioxidants has increased in maintaining good health as our unhealthy lifestyle and exposure to pollutants has resulted in more ROS singlet oxygen formation in the body.


  • ·        From various studies, it has been found that β-Carotene has far greater efficacy compared to Vitamin C and Vitamin E against the ROS singlet oxygen.


 Health Effects of Carotenoids

Among carotenoids, β-Carotene is probably the most widely studied and sought after because of the fact that it is the precursor of Vitamin A and also for being a very good antioxidant. Intake of dietary carotenoids in sufficient amounts has been found to be protective against many diseases as is evident from numerous epidemiological studies. The promotion of optimal health is facilitated by diets rich in fruits and vegetables. But in the case of supplements that are extracted from the matrix of the plants, the health benefits decrease significantly. So it is advised to take whole food items instead of supplements. Intake of very high amounts of outsourced and preformed β-Carotene is associated with adverse health effects as they are readily absorbed into the body. β-Carotene is also beneficial for enhanced lung functionality as is evident from many studies. But chronic high doses of it can cause increased formation of tissue in the lung which may lead to lung cancer. Smokers who consume supplementation are at a higher risk as compared to the normal population. Supplemental β-Carotene also increases the risk of prostate cancer, intracerebral haemorrhage and cardiovascular diseases.

β-Carotene has also been found to enhance immunity by improving various parameters such as increasing the number of white blood corpuscles (Leukocytes) and the activity of natural killer cells. Studies show that it’s use resulted in increased levels of T-cells after a period of 7 days. Additionally, it was also shown to be effective against the early stages of tumour growth. For intestinal absorption and facilitated incorporation of β-Carotene into micelles, dietary fat is required. 3-5 mg/ meal of fat is required for optimal absorption in the case of cooked vegetables. Excess β-Carotene is stored predominantly in the adipose tissues of the body. It imparts a yellowish-orange tinge to the colour of the skin. This condition is called carotenodermia. It is physically harmless and is caused by the deposition of β-carotene in the outermost layer of the epidermis. This condition is easily reversed and the skin colour returns to normal in a few days.


Consuming a diet rich in β-Carotene is extremely helpful for the normal functioning of the body. It also keeps many diseases at bay and helps us in leading a healthy lifestyle. Children and mothers should consume ample amounts of fruits and vegetables. It is also very much beneficial for the skin. 180 mg per day of β-Carotene is used to treat erythropoietic protoporphyria (an inherited disorder marked by sensitivity to light). In the case of ineffectiveness, the dose is increased to 300 mg per day. β-Carotene conjugated with Vitamin E, Vitamin C and zinc has been found effective against age-related macular degeneration (or AMD). Along with other carotenoids β-Carotene can be used extensively for the prevention of sunburns. Thus based on all the facts you need to know about β-Carotene, it is recommended that our diet on a regular basis must contain some sort of a source of β-Carotene.




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