Beta-carotene

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. Beta-carotene is also used to color foods such as margarine.

In the body, beta-carotene converts into vitamin A (retinol). We need vitamin A for good vision and eye health, for a strong immune system, and for healthy skin and mucous membranes. Taking big doses of vitamin A can be toxic, but your body only converts as much vitamin A from beta-carotene as it needs. That means beta-carotene is considered a safe source of vitamin A. However, too much beta-carotene can be dangerous for people who smoke. (Getting high amounts of either vitamin A or beta-carotene from food, not from supplements, is safe.)

Beta-carotene is an antioxidant. It protects the body from damaging molecules called free radicals. Free radicals damage cells through a process known as oxidation. Over time, this damage can lead to a number of chronic illnesses. There is good evidence that eating more antioxidants from foods helps boost your immune system, protect against free radicals, and may lower your risk of heart disease and cancer. But the issue is a little more complicated when it comes to taking antioxidant supplements.

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Review Date: 3/23/2015  

Reviewed By: Steven D. Ehrlich, NMD, Solutions Acupuncture, a private practice specializing in complementary and alternative medicine, Phoenix, AZ. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network.

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