The Effect Of Beta-Carotene

Beta-carotene – also known as provitamin A – is a secondary plant substance from the carotenoid family. Carotenoids are responsible for the fact that many foods appear in the appetizing colors of red, yellow, and orange. These orange or red natural pigments found in peppers, carrots, apricots, and other fruits and vegetables are converted to vitamin A in the body. In this form, beta-carotene reduces oxidation processes, regulates cell growth, controls reactions of the immune system, and also fulfills many other important functions in the body.

The Best Beta Carotene Sources

Among the best sources of beta-carotene are

  • sweet potatoes
  • pumpkins
  • Beetroot
  • carrots
  • tomatoes
  • paprika
  • apricots
  • mangoes
  • papayas
  • melons as well
  • the red palm oil.

Likewise, spinach, kale, broccoli, and all other dark green leafy vegetables, as well as matcha, are great sources of beta-carotene, even if they’re deep green rather than orange. In them, the green of the high chlorophyll content overshadows the yellow or orange color of the carotenoids.

Beta-carotene prevents heart disease

If you rely on these colorful foods, you benefit in many areas from the strong antioxidant effect of beta-carotene. The risk of cardiovascular disease is reduced and thus also of stroke, heart attack, or PAD (=peripheral arterial occlusion disease). Beta-carotene also reduces the oxidation of LDL cholesterol in the body and thus inhibits the development of arteriosclerosis.

Numerous studies have shown that foods rich in carotenoids can significantly reduce the risk of succumbing to a heart attack.

Other studies suggest that two carotenoids in particular — the beta-carotene and lycopene found in tomatoes — may be effective in reducing the risk of stroke.

Beta-carotene protects against cancer

Beta-carotene can be converted into vitamin A by the body. Vitamin A is important for the formation of the gastric mucosa. The mucous membrane in turn protects the stomach walls from the acidic gastric juices. Therefore, it is also no coincidence that regular consumption of foods rich in vitamin A, alpha-carotene, and beta-carotene reduces the risk of developing stomach cancer by half.

Beta-carotene can also protect against other cancers, such as esophageal cancer, liver cancer, pancreatic cancer, colon cancer, rectal cancer, prostate cancer, ovarian cancer, and cervical cancer – also in particular due to its antioxidant effect.

On the other hand, people who only ingest small amounts of antioxidants through their diet have an increased risk of cancer. In comparison, people who eat lots of fruits and vegetables can reduce this risk by half.

The influence of beta carotene on the brain

As an antioxidant, beta-carotene also has a positive effect on brain function, as it improves communication between brain cells. It can also increase the lifespan of brain cells due to its antioxidant effects. In the form of vitamin A, beta-carotene also influences the processing of the protein beta-amyloid. This is particularly important because when this process falters, Alzheimer’s disease can result.

Sarcopenia – here, too, oxidation processes play an important role

Sarcopenia is a condition that causes loss of muscle mass and eventually strength, leaving the sufferer increasingly frail and at risk of falling.

The loss of muscle mass is therefore not always exclusively due to a lack of exercise because the same oxidation damage plays a role in muscle atrophy that also results in cancer, heart problems, and other diseases. The oxidation process also damages the DNA of muscle cells, as well as the proteins and fats they contain, causing muscles to degenerate with age.

Luckily, carotenoids like beta-carotene can help scavenge the excessive free radicals that trigger this oxidation. In this way, oxidative damage to muscle cells and DNA can be reduced. In order to ensure that the hips and knees of an older person remain strong, it is necessary to ensure the consumption of sufficient amounts of fruit and vegetables, because the amount of carotenoids in the blood depends on them.

Beta-carotene has an anti-inflammatory effect

Oxidative damage caused by an excessive number of free radicals in the body often results in inflammatory processes.

Interleukin-6 is an inflammatory marker released by white blood cells during inflammatory processes. The higher the measured value of interleukin-6 in the blood, the greater the degree of inflammation in the body. Scientific research has now shown that an elevated level of interleukin-6 is associated with a low level of carotenoids. When carotenoid levels increase, interleukin-6 levels also decrease.

Vitamin A – the eye vitamin

The retina of the eye contains millions of cells that help to recognize not only light and color but also all other visual impulses. An incredibly fast chain reaction, triggered by a large number of special molecules, transmits these impulses to the brain, from where they are then processed into visible images. Without vitamin A, this process would not be possible. This means that without this vitamin we could not see at all.

A lack of vitamin A therefore inevitably leads to visual disturbances. Drying of the corneal cells, burning eyes, and conjunctivitis occur. In particularly severe cases, macular degeneration can also develop.

The macula sits in the center of the eye and is the area where the images show the greatest sharpness. With an increased number of free radicals in the eye area, the resulting oxidative stress can lead to macular degeneration. In this case, the cells in the area of ​​the eye responsible for sharp vision shrink.

A study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association showed that people over the age of 55 who regularly consumed larger amounts of antioxidant foods reduced their risk of developing macular degeneration by 35%.

In addition to carotenoids, many other vital substances help with macular degeneration.

Carotenoids need fat

In order to fully benefit from the outstanding properties of carotenoids, their proportion in the diet should be maximized. Since both vitamin A and beta-carotene are fat-soluble vitamins, some fat must always be added when preparing foods containing beta-carotene. High-quality fats (red palm oil, coconut oil, or avocados) and cold-pressed oils are particularly suitable for this.

Much more important than adding fat, however, is that the respective food is chewed very well or – even better – pureed or mixed. This increases the bioavailability of the beta-carotene much more than adding fat.

Therefore, when making your next purchase, pay particular attention to the foods mentioned above and prepare delicious dishes from them.

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Written by Bella Adams

I'm a professionally-trained, executive chef with over ten years in Restaurant Culinary and hospitality management. Experienced in specialized diets, including Vegetarian, Vegan, Raw foods, whole food, plant-based, allergy-friendly, farm-to-table, and more. Outside of the kitchen, I write about lifestyle factors that impact well-being.

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