The Health Benefits of Beta-Carotene

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still life of squash, carrots, and other vegetables and fruits

Beta-carotene is a compound found naturally in a number of foods and available in dietary supplement form. It’s classified as a carotenoid, which is a type of pigment that helps give many fruits and vegetables their color. It’s said that increasing your intake of beta-carotene can protect against a host of health issues, particularly those related to the eyes.

Health Benefits

When consumed, beta-carotene is converted by your body into vitamin A, a nutrient involved in processes such as forming and maintaining healthy skin and teeth as well as in promoting good vision. It can also act as an antioxidant.

Beta-carotene is the most common type of pro-vitamin A, which is the form of vitamin A sourced from plant-based foods. Preformed vitamin A, meanwhile, is found in animal products like meat, fish, poultry, and dairy foods.

Beta-carotene is said to aid in the treatment or prevention of the following health problems:

  • Age-related macular degeneration
  • Arthritis
  • Asthma
  • Cataracts
  • Heartburn
  • Heart disease
  • High blood pressure
  • Parkinson’s disease
  • Psoriasis

Age-Related Macular Degeneration

Taking a combination of beta-carotene, vitamin C, vitamin E, and zinc may have long-term effects against age-related macular degeneration, suggests a follow-up study published in the journal Ophthalmology in 2013.

Prior to this study, 4,757 older adults participated in a clinical trial in which they received either a placebo or a supplement containing beta-carotene, vitamins C and E, and zinc. At the end of the trial’s seven-year study period, researchers found that participants at high risk of developing advanced stages of age-related macular degeneration lowered their risk by about 25 percent when treated with the beta-carotene-based supplement.

In the follow-up study (conducted five years after the clinical trial ended), researchers focused on 3,549 participants from that clinical trial. They found that the beta-carotene-based supplement’s beneficial effects had persisted and that study members treated with the supplement had a reduced risk of vision loss.

Inflammatory Conditions

According to a small pilot study that looked at how beta-carotene may help prevent exercise-induced asthma attacks, of the 38 patients who received a daily dose of 64 mg of beta-carotene for 1 week, 53 percent were protected against exercise-induced asthma attacks. Another study of beta-carotene as a treatment for an inflammatory condition found that beta-carotene reduced the risk of osteoarthritis progression, but not consistently. A study of 34 adults with chronic plaque psoriasis experienced a significant reduction in severity after taking capsules containing beta-carotene. Further research is needed before beta-carotene supplements can be recommended for use for these conditions.

Possible Side Effects

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) cautions against taking beta-carotene supplements for general health. However, they also state that beta-carotene is likely safe when taken “in appropriate amounts for certain specific medical conditions.” To determine whether beta-carotene is right for you, make sure to consult your physician prior to supplementing.

Long-term use of high doses of beta-carotene may lead to a condition called carotenodermia—a harmless condition that causes the skin to yellow. More worrisome, the NIH notes that supplementing with high doses of beta-carotene may increase the risk of lung cancer in smokers. There’s also some concern that taking large amounts of a multivitamin plus a separate beta-carotene supplement could increase the risk of developing advanced prostate cancer.

Dosage and Preparation

There is not enough research to establish a recommended daily intake of beta-carotene. If you choose to supplement with beta-carotene, your ideal dose may vary based on several factors including your age, gender, and medical condition.

Different doses—ranging from 60 to 180 milligrams (mg)/day—have been studied in the treatment of different medical conditions.

Your intake of beta-carotene may need be combined with another supplement to gain a desired benefit. Speak with your healthcare provider to get a personalized recommendation.

What to Look For 

You can get beta-carotene in your diet by consuming foods that contain it. Top sources of beta-carotene include dark green and orange-yellow vegetables, such as carrots, sweet potatoes, squash, spinach, broccoli, romaine lettuce, apricots, and green peppers.

Eating five servings of fruits and vegetables daily will more than meet your daily needs for vitamin A, according to the NIH.

If you choose to buy a supplement, the NIH recommends that you look for a Supplement Facts label on the product that you buy. This label will contain vital information including the amount of active ingredients per serving, as well as other added ingredients (like fillers, binders, and flavorings).

Lastly, the NIH suggests that you look for a product that contains a seal of approval from a third party organization that provides quality testing. These organizations include U.S. Pharmacopeia, ConsumerLab, and NSF International. A seal of approval from one of these organizations does not guarantee the product’s safety or effectiveness, but it does provide assurance that the product was properly manufactured, contains the ingredients listed on the label, and does not contain harmful levels of contaminants.

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