Beta-carotene is one of a group of red, orange, and yellow pigments called carotenoids, which can be found in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. There is also a synthetic version, which is made from acetylene gas, but this should be avoided at all costs as it is "incomplete" and does not perform as well as natural sources of beta-carotene -- in fact, it may actually be harmful. The most concentrated sources of beta-carotene are yellow, orange, and green leafy fruits and vegetables. Foods rich in beta-carotene include:
Beta-carotene is converted by the body into vitamin A (retinol) as needed to strengthen the immune system and promote healthy cell growth. In addition, beta-carotene is a potent antioxidant, offering particular benefits to the immune system and the lungs. (Note: In nature, beta-carotene always comes as part of a carotenoid complex, not in isolation. There are more than 400 different carotenoids in addition to beta carotene in a single carrot, for example.)
Other beta-carotene benefits have been shown to include inhibiting proliferation of various types of cancer cells such as those affecting the lungs, stomach, cervix, breast, bladder, and mouth. In fact, some studies suggest that eating four or more daily servings of beta-carotene rich foods may protect against heart disease or cancer. These foods have also been proven to protect against atherosclerosis, cataracts, macular degeneration, and other major degenerative disorders.
Numerous studies have been done on the potential health benefits of beta-carotene. Some of the findings include:
- May help decrease sun sensitivity in people with a particular condition that makes them sensitive to the sun.
- When included in a group of other vitamins and minerals, beta-carotene was shown to slow progression of macular degeneration.
- Eating more foods with beta-carotene and lycopene may decrease the risk of metabolic syndrome, a group of symptoms that increase the chance of heart disease and diabetes.
- Beta-carotene is one of the carotenoids that can help increase overall skin health, protecting skin from environmental toxins and disease.
- Beta carotene may also offer some brain health benefits as one study showed that those in the study that supplemented with beta-carotene were less likely to experience cognitive decline.
While beta-carotene has many health benefits, it is important to understand that beta-carotene is not the most important of the carotenoids. It's just the only one that has a recommended daily requirement. The bottom line is this: while beta-carotene is an important ingredient that is essential to your health, you don’t want to supplement with synthetic beta carotene or natural isolates -- go with natural sources and foods with beta-carotene. Then, if you choose to supplement, for the best results, you want to supplement with natural beta-carotene that is part of a full carotenoid complex, such as is found in Jon Barron’s Ultimate Antioxidant formula.
Keep in mind that there “may” be some risks to over supplementing with beta-carotene. According to University of Maryland Medical Center, “beta-carotene supplements may increase the risk of heart disease and cancer in people who smoke or drink heavily. Those people should not take beta-carotene, except under a doctor’s supervision.” But as Jon Barron has pointed out, the studies used as the basis for that conclusion evaluated synthetic beta carotene, not natural beta carotene. That said, beta-carotene supplements may interact with certain drugs, such as statins and mineral oil.