What is beta-carotene?

Bryce B. Wylde
Alternative & Complementary Medicine
Renowned for the yellow color it imparts to carrots and for which it’s named, beta-carotene is a so-called carotene pigment found in many colorful vegetables and converted by the body to the essential vitamin A.

Deficiencies of vitamin A cause deleterious changes to vision and the skin, and the vitamin has been used in trials to reduce photosensitivities, cataracts, age-related macular degeneration, and a host of other conditions.
The Antioxidant Prescription: How to Use the Power of Antioxidants to Prevent Disease and Stay Healthy for Life

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The Antioxidant Prescription: How to Use the Power of Antioxidants to Prevent Disease and Stay Healthy for Life

Dr. Bryce Wylde, one of Canada's most popular and respected health care practitioners, gives us individualized step-by-step treatment plans to fight disease and stay healthy.In The Antioxidant...
Beta carotene is a type of carotenoid found in many fruits and vegetables. You don't need beta carotene to survive, though it may help fight off certain diseases. Also, your body can convert it to vitamin A, which you do need.
Plant food sources do not contain preformed vitamin A, but some do contain provitamin A carotenoid, which can be converted to retinol in your body. Carotenoids are the yellow-red pigments that give carrots, butternut squash, and cantaloupe their vibrant, deep orange color.

There are over 600 different carotenoids, but only 3 -- beta-carotene (β-carotene), beta-cryptoxanthin (β-cryptoxanthin), and alpha-carotene (α-carotene) -- can be converted to vitamin A. These three provide approximately 25 to 35 percent of the dietary vitamin A consumed by adults in the United States, with the majority of it coming from beta-carotene. Other nutritionally significant carotenoids, including lycopene, lutein, and zeaxanthin, may function as antioxidants or provide health benefits, but cannot be converted to vitamin A.
Beta-carotene is a compound that is synthesized from elements in nature and then used as a supplement to encourage the production of vitamin A. Normally, naturally occurring carotenoids found in fruits and vegetables are converted into active vitamin A when healthy whole plant-based foods are eaten. Carotenoids are fat-soluble compounds that are rich in color and are found in brightly colored fruits and vegetables such as spinach, carrots, bell peppers and sweet potatoes. These foods promote bone health, reproductive health and good vision. Beta-carotene is synthesized to act like a member of the carotenoid family and is used in an attempt to supplement a diet that does not contain enough whole plant based foods.
Beyond its essential function as the raw material for vitamin A (often referred to as a provitamin A carotenoid), beta-carotene has many other health benefits. It’s a powerful antioxidant capable of mopping up free radicals, and it’s thought to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease as well as several types of cancer. Research has linked higher blood levels of beta-carotene with lower levels of C-reactive protein, a marker of inflammation and a known risk factor for heart disease. Other research has found that beta-carotene inhibits collagen breakdown and defends epithelial cells against the kind of UV radiation that can lead to wrinkles and age spots, thus acting as a kind of internal sunscreen.