Beta-carotene is a carotenoid that is a naturally occurring pigment found in plants. It’s the main source of color for yellow and orange vegetables like carrots, pumpkins, sweet potatoes, yams and squash. Beta-carotene also gives leafy foods like lettuce, spinach, kale, endive and broccoli their dark green hues as well as providing fruits such as mangoes, papayas, apricots, peaches and nectarines their yellowy-orange colors. Certain grains and vegetable oils are also rich in beta-carotene. 1,2,3
Beta-carotene is the most common and abundant of the “provitamin A” carotenoids that work in the human body to convert beta-carotene into vitamin A or retinol. Proper intake of vitamin A through eating beta-carotene rich foods is essential for normal development and growth, maintaining excellent vision, good skin health and building a strong immune system. Beta-carotene is also a powerful antioxidant that works to kill destructive free radicals in the body that are leading causes of cancer. 1,2,3
As a rule-of-thumb, the more intense a food’s color is, the more beta-carotene it contains. 3
Beta-Carotene Health Uses and Health Benefits
Beta-carotene benefits are extensive. One of the strongest values is for beta-carotene eye health. Vitamin A that’s produced by the body through beta-carotene intake is essential for promoting good vision and preventing macular degeneration in aging people. Vitamin A is also vital to boosting the immune system, decreasing sensitivity to sunlight and maintaining healthy skin. 1,2,3,4
Other beta-carotene benefits include treatment for:
- Macular Degeneration - Macular degeneration is a common eye condition that’s prevalent in older adults. Vitamin A in beta-carotene, as well as the antioxidant properties, helps to prevent and delay macular degeneration that results in vision loss.
- Sun Sensitivity - One of the top beta-carotene uses is for protection against the sun’s ultraviolet radiation. People who sunburn easily or have the genetically inherited skin disorder “erythropoietic protoporphyria” (EPP) greatly benefit from a healthy diet containing beta-carotene.
- Cervical Cancer - Most cases of cervical cancer are caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV) and the uncontrolled aggressive action of free radicals. Beta-carotene is a strong antioxidant that kills free radicals and boosts the immune system.
- Metabolic Syndrome - Metabolic syndrome is a group of factors that increase the risk of heart disease and diabetes. It’s more common in men than women. Beta-carotene benefits reduce metabolic syndrome and keep a healthy immune system through the production of vitamin A.
- Leukoplakia (Oral) - Oral leukoplakia is a condition that presents in the mouth and mucous membranes as small white lesions. It’s commonly found in long-term smokers and alcohol drinkers. Beta-carotene uses include being helpful in preventing and treating oral leukoplakia.
- Common Cold - Most common colds are caused by rhinoviruses. A strong intake of vitamin A through eating foods high in beta-carotene boosts the body’s immune system and reduces the risk of catching a common cold.
Beta-Carotene Side Effects and Precautions
In normal diets, there are virtually no negative beta-carotene side effects. In cases of excessive consumption, especially with condensed beta-carotene supplements, there is a noticeable yellowing to skin tones. This is not dangerous but is often confused for jaundice. 1,5
Beta-carotene is a water-soluble fat compound easily passed through the digestive system and making excessive retention of beta-carotene difficult. Certain cases of beta-carotene side effects are reported which include an increased risk of lung and prostate cancer in smokers. A regular diet containing foods high in beta-carotene should not present an undue risk. 1,5
Pregnant and breastfeeding mothers should consult their doctor before taking beta-carotene supplements. There is no risk to infants or children in consuming a normal diet of foods high in beta-carotene. 1,5