Benefits of Vitamin A
To help stack your deck against cancer, consider stocking your diet with more of the foods listed in this section. Don't just add them to what you're already eating, though, unless you're trying to gain weight. Cut back on fatty foods, sugary foods that don't provide many nutrients, and other foods discussed later in this article. Instead, replace them with more foods filled with the potential cancer fighters such as the vitamins discussed below.
Beta-Carotene: Bad News and Good News
For a short time, beta-carotene, a form of vitamin A, was a star among supplements. There was good reason, too -- solid research suggested that beta-carotene could lower cancer risk.
Vitamin manufacturers jumped on the bandwagon and began replacing all the vitamin A in their pills with beta-carotene, until results from a study called CARET (Beta-Carotene and Retinol Efficacy Trial) brought things to a screeching halt. This landmark study, published in 1996, tested synthetic beta-carotene and vitamin A supplements in people at high risk for lung cancer -- smokers, former smokers, and asbestos-industry workers. The study was quickly discontinued when it became clear that those taking beta-carotene supplements (about 30 milligrams a day) actually had a higher rate of lung cancer and higher mortality rate than those taking a placebo (an inert pill).
Nevertheless, beta-carotene's action as an antioxidant can significantly slow or prevent oxidative damage in the body that can increase the risk of certain types of cancer, including oral cancers and tumors of the stomach, breast, cervix, uterus, prostate, and colon.
Because vitamin A can be toxic in large doses, the emphasis is on getting it from fruits and vegetables, where it is primarily found in the form of beta-carotene, and not from supplements of vitamin A.
Other carotenoids, especially lutein and lycopene, may be protective, too, but they have not been studied as well, and information on their content in foods is somewhat limited.
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