Beta-carotene is the most abundant carotenoid in the human diet. Beta-carotene is a pigment found in plants that gives them their color. The name beta-carotene is derived from the Latin name for carrot. It gives yellow and orange fruits and vegetables their rich hues.
What Is Beta-Carotene?
Beta-carotene is a type of carotenoid. There’s a growing collection of literature that indicates the beneficial effects of beta-carotene and other carotenoids on chronic diseases in humans, which is why getting them into your diet should be a priority.
Beta-carotene gives yellow and orange fruits and vegetables their color. It’s known as a provitamin A carotenoid because it needs to be converted to active vitamin A by the body. Vitamin A helps form and maintain healthy teeth, skeletal and soft tissue, mucus membranes, skin and neurological function.
Vitamin A deficiency (VAD) results from a dietary intake of vitamin A that is inadequate to satisfy physiological needs. It may be exacerbated by high rates of infection, especially diarrhea and measles. Vitamin A deficiency is a public health problem in more than half of all countries, especially those in Africa and South-East Asia. The most severe effects of this deficiency are seen in young children and pregnant women in low-income countries. VAD constitutes, together with protein malnutrition, the most common nutritional disorder in the world; in fact, it is estimated that 250 million preschool-aged children in developing countries have biochemical VAD and 5 million are clinically affected by this deficiency. VAD can cause vision loss and blindness. It can also lead to complications with your skin, heart, lungs, tissues and immune system
Night blindness is one of the first signs of vitamin A deficiency. An estimated 250 000–500 000 children who are vitamin A-deficient become blind every year, and half of them die within 12 months of losing their sight. Deficiency of vitamin A is associated with significant morbidity and mortality from common childhood infections and is the world’s leading preventable cause of childhood blindness.
Vitamin A deficiency also contributes to maternal mortality and other poor outcomes of pregnancy and lactation. It also diminishes the ability to fight infections. Vitamin A also interplays with endocrine tissues and hormonal systems, that is, VAD provokes thyroid dysfunction.
Powerful Antioxidant Activity
Free radicals can cause large chain chemical reactions in your body because they react so easily with other molecules. Antioxidants are the only defense mechanism to neutralize free radicals. When there are more free radicals present than can be kept in balance by antioxidants, the free radicals can start doing damage to fatty tissue, DNA, and proteins in your body. The damage can occur at a molecular, cellular or organ level or can affect the whole body. It has been estimated that 10,000 oxidative interactions occur between DNA and endogenously generated free radicals per human cell per day.
Beta-carotene and other carotenoids have antioxidant activities and are valued for their ability to prevent chronic disease. They protect cells from damaging free radicals, which are the primary cause of aging and degeneration. Studies have shown an inverse relationship between the presence of various cancers and dietary carotenoids or blood carotenoid levels. Consuming foods containing beta-carotene and other antioxidants helps lower levels of inflammation and fight oxidative stress within the body.
Pregnancy and Lactation
Vitamin A is essential for normal maintenance and functioning of body tissues, and for growth and development, including during pregnancy when the fetus makes demands on the mother's vitamin A stores and during the postpartum period when the newborn is growing rapidly.
Vitamin A is essential for the maintenance of maternal night vision and fetal ocular health besides the development of other organs, the fetal skeleton and maintenance of the fetal immune system. Vitamin A plays an important role in the lung development and maturation. It’s also needed for infants and toddlers to build strong immune systems. Research published notes that there should be a 40 percent increase in vitamin A intake for pregnant women and a 90 percent increase for breastfeeding women.
Skin Benefits of Beta-Carotene
Beta-carotene is converted into vitamin A which is vital for the maintenance of healthy skin. Your body converts as much vitamin A from beta-carotene as it needs. Beta-carotene metabolism takes place in a wide variety of organs, including the skin. It helps prevent the formation of UV-induced erythema, or skin irritation and redness. Research has shown that antioxidants, including beta-carotene, can help maintain skin health and appearance, and may protect the skin against UV radiation from the sun. It can boost the effectiveness of sunscreen and reduce sun damage.
Beta-carotene is effective in the treatment of skin conditions like dry skin, eczema and psoriasis. Vitamin A, being a powerful antioxidant, is involved in the growth and repair of body tissues and hence, protects the skin against damage.
Deficiency of vitamin A can cause dry, dull, lifeless hair and dry scalp which can flake off into dandruff. Hence, consumption of foods rich in beta-carotene is inevitable for preventing these conditions.
Beta-Carotene Benefits Vision
Age related macular degeneration is an eye disease in which the macula of the eye, responsible for central vision, starts to break down. Consumption of adequate levels of beta-carotene along with other nutrients can slow down the progression of age-related macular degeneration. It can also help prevent cataracts and night blindness. A combination of dietary antioxidants, including eye vitamins zinc, beta-carotene, vitamin C and vitamin E, effectively slowed the progression of macular degeneration.
Vitamin A also soothes eye inflammation and makes it less likely for us to develop eye infections. Beta-carotene reduces the oxidative stress put on our eyes from blue light emitted by the sun and our various devices' screens.
Vitamin A is involved in the proliferation and maintenance of epithelial cells, including those of the respiratory tract. It is a major factor regulating differentiation and maturation of the lung, and maternal vitamin A deficiency during pregnancy could have lasting adverse effects on the lung health of the offspring.
Vitamin A is essential in the formation of lung alveoli, which constitute the gas exchange region of the lung, which takes place during pregnancy and continues for several years after birth. Chronic nutritional vitamin A deficiency results in decreased alveolar septation and in marked changes in the respiratory epithelium. Eating fruits with beta-carotene can improve respiratory and pulmonary function.
Beta-carotene is usually present in brightly colored yellow, orange, and red vegetables and some greens. Foods that are rich in beta-carotene include sweet potatoes, carrots, spinach, butternut squash, kale, cantaloupe, romaine lettuce, red bell pepper and apricots. In general, the brighter and more intense the color, the more beta-carotene is present in that food.
Beta-carotene is fat-soluble, so you need to consume fats in order for it to be absorbed properly. You can do this by cooking vegetables containing this carotenoid in coconut oil or olive oil, which also have numerous health benefits.
Beta-carotene is not a heat-sensitive nutrient, therefore, it is not destroyed with a short cooking time; actually, when this vegetable is cooked, the cell walls of the plant tissues soften, making it easier for our digestive system to assimilate this precious substance.