What is Beta Carotene and what are the benefits?
Today, there is no shortage of health-related terms and conditions being thrown around. In addition, there are just as many stories about cures and natural remedies designed to combat them. One you may have heard of is beta carotene, but are there any real benefits to this natural substance?
First, a brief history of beta carotene
Beta carotene was discovered as a byproduct by German pharmacist Heinrich Wilhelm Ferdinand Wackenroder in the 1830s while searching for a cure for parasitic worms in the intestines. The juice of the vegetable proved to be a very effective treatment for the ailment.
He then performed a chemical analysis of the juice in an attempt to determine the exact component that was doing the job. He crystallized the pigment from carrot roots and gave beta carotene its name. Later scientific research by other scientists identified it as a hydrocarbon. The chemical formula C40 H56 was discovered in 1907.
Its name comes from the combination of the Greek word beta, the second letter of the Greek alphabet and carota, which is Latin for carrot.
So, just what is beta carotene?
Beta carotene is a carotenoid (fat soluble nutrient), and an antioxidant. When we eat carotenoids, they enter our intestines and interact with the bile and fats, which break them down. The cells of the intestines dissect the chemicals in the carotenoids and then release them into the bloodstream. Therefore, it’s best to eat those foods as part of a meal that includes healthy fats.
Antioxidants are the naturally occurring molecules in certain foods that help counteract the negative effects of metabolism and our environment. This includes factors such as UV exposure, cigarette smoke and pollution, which damages cells and causes chronic illnesses.
Foods that contain rich amounts of beta carotene are often referred to as “superfoods.” To get the greatest benefits, it’s best to eat them raw.
Where do you find beta carotene?
Beta carotene is the natural orange pigment that gives fruits and vegetables their bright colors and is found in more than 30 different plants. Some of the more popular foods include carrots and other colorful vegetables that are rich in vitamin A such as peas, onions, red peppers and squash.
It can also be found in apricots, grapefruit, plums, pumpkin and sweet potatoes. A few of the more surprising sources are ketchup, margarine and many spices like chili powder, paprika and oregano.
Are there any beta carotene benefits?
Beta carotene has remarkable benefits in health and medicine because it is the progenitor of vitamin A. In other words, our bodies convert it into vitamin A, which gives us healthy skin and good eye health. It also helps our immune systems and mucus membranes.
According to the American Pediatrics Association, vitamin A is one of the most crucial nutrients for pregnant and breastfeeding mothers. Additionally, infants and toddlers need vitamin A for normal growth and development.
Beta carotene is also being studied as a defensive component against oral cancer. Also, it may treat sun sensitivity in people with a certain blood disorder. Furthermore, there is evidence that it may decrease the risk of breast cancer and ovarian cancer in older women who are at high risk for the disease.
Eating more foods with beta carotene may likely prevent lung complications like COPD, bronchitis and asthma. For osteoarthritis patients, it may help to keep the condition from getting worse.
There have been studies which suggest that beta carotene might have an effect on cognitive decline, helping with issues such as memory loss and dementia. Other research indicates it could help improve lung strength in the elderly. You may also lower your risk of developing cancer or heart disease by consuming three or more beta-carotene rich fruits or vegetables daily.
You can find numerous uses, including a way to enhance physical performance and muscle strength. Doctors also recommend beta carotene for preventing complications, like fever and diarrhea, after childbirth.
Are there any dangers from beta carotene?
Some people believe that supplements are the way to go. They also may feel that they don’t have time to eat right, so rely on beta carotene or vitamin A supplements to enhance their diet. Research shows that supplements may actually cause you to get too much of a good thing and might have the opposite health effects. It’s vital to discuss proper dosage with your physician.
It’s also important to watch for drug interactions when taking beta carotene supplements. For example, some cholesterol lowering drugs, mineral oil, and orlistat, a weight loss medication, may cause lower beta carotene levels. If you take blood thinners, it may lead to increased bleeding.
There are a few side effects you might experience from beta carotene supplements. These include headaches, joint pain, and loose stools. Also, anyone who drinks or smokes heavily may want to avoid these supplements, as studies have shown an increased cancer risk in this population.
Perhaps the biggest danger lies in not getting enough beta carotene and vitamin A. This is a major issue in developing countries, as it may result in night blindness, hair loss and inflamed eyes.
Do you like what you read? Learn about carotenoids here.