Beta carotene is part of the carotenoid group of pigments, it is found in fruit, vegetables and whole grains and provides around 50% of the recommended daily intake of vitamin A required; it may also be artificially manufactured. It is, as yet, unknown whether using a supplement provides the same benefits as obtaining beta carotene from natural sources – current recommendations are therefore that as far as possible those products which are rich in carotenoids should form a substantial part of a healthy diet. Beta carotene is converted to vitamin A – which is an essential nutrient for good health and is also a known anti-oxidant .
The list of those things which may be treated with or prevented by beta-carotene is substantial and includes, among other things
- Reduction of asthma symptoms brought on by exercise
- Cancer prevention
- Prevention of Heart disease
- Cataracts and AMD
- Beta carotene may be used to treat AIDs
- Alzheimers disease
- Parkinsons disease
- Skin disorders
- Rheumatoid arthritis
- High blood pressure
However insufficient research has been done to give concrete evidence as to the benefit of beta-carotene. Indeed the only treatment it is rated as effective for (by the Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database) is the treatment of people with the inherited blood disorder erythropoietic protoporphyria – which causes sun sensitivity. For all other conditions the rating of effectiveness is no more than possibly effective for.
It is unwise to take excessive amounts of beta-carotene since to do so may cause skin pigment to turn yellow or orange! It is also true to say that current evidence suggests avoiding high doses of beta carotene because there may be as yet unknown side effects and some research suggests that it may increase the chance of death. Large doses of vitamins with an added dose of beta-carotene have also been implicated in the development of prostate cancer.
Pregnant and lactating women should not take any supplements with added beta carotene since the effects if this remain unknown. Similarly smokers should not take a beta carotene supplement since it may heighten the risk of lung cancer.
Research has shown that beta carotene interacts with some medications – specifically statins and niacin. It is therefore advisable to avoid taking a supplement of vitamin A or beta carotene if your drug regime includes any of these types of medication.
Excessive alcohol can reduce levels of beta carotene in the body generally but more research is required to discover the consequences of this.
Whilst the best course of action is always to get all the necessary nutrients from a healthy and well balanced diet, scientists do recognise that some people will still want to take a supplement. They have therefore given guidelines for correct dosage of beta carotene, however these are only guidelines – a recommended daily intake has not yet been set due to lack of research. Before taking any supplements always read the instructions.