In addition to their role in cancer prevention, the carotenes offer us protection from heart disease, too. Again, it's their antioxidant behavior that protects the lining of the arteries and the fats in the blood from free radicals' oxidative damage. And age-related macular degeneration of the eye, which leads to vision loss, may be counteracted by carotenes' antioxidant power.
Beta-carotene is used to treat skin problems caused by sun exposure. Some people have conditions in which swelling, redness, itching, and pain occur after being in the sun. Typically this is the result of excessive free radical damage due to a cellular problem. Beta-carotene supplementation helps alleviate these symptoms by protecting cells from damage.
Carotenes, like vitamin A, support immune function, but in a different way. They stimulate the production of special white blood cells that help determine overall immune status. They improve the communication between cells, too, which results in fewer cell mutations. White blood cells attack bacteria, viruses, cancer cells, and yeast. Women with high levels of carotenes in their blood tend to have fewer incidences of vaginal yeast infections.
While the liver stores retinol, excess carotenoids accumulate in the fat just beneath the skin. If you eat a lot of carotene-rich foods, you may notice a yellowing of your skin, especially on the palms of your hands and soles of your feet. This is generally considered to be harmless, though carotene-containing tanning pills used in Europe reportedly cause infertility in women.
There is no known carotenoid deficiency state. Deficiency symptoms are linked to vitamin A deficiency instead. While carotenoids can help prevent vitamin A deficiency, people who have impaired thyroid function are less able to convert betacarotene into vitamin A (retinol).
Taking more than 100,000 IU betacarotene per day sometimes gives the skin a yellow-orange hue, which may look like jaundice but is not harmful. People taking beta-carotene for long periods of time should also supplement with vitamin E, as beta-carotene may reduce vitamin E levels. Supplementing with doses of over 50,000 IU of beta carotene may also decrease blood levels of lutein, lycopene and other carotenoids.
Vitamin A and carotenoids are vital to your overall health, especially for good eyesight. Just be sure you're getting appropriate amounts of this nutrient and safeguard against overdose to avoid toxic levels, and vitamin A will work to keep your body running smoothly.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Jennifer Brett, N.D. is director of the Acupuncture Institute for the University of Bridgeport, where she also serves on the faculty for the College of Naturopathic Medicine. A recognized leader in her field with an extensive background in treating a wide variety of disorders utilizing nutritional and botanical remedies, Dr. Brett has appeared on WABC TV (NYC) and on Good Morning America to discuss utilizing herbs for health.