What is Beta Carotene?
Beta carotene is one of a group of red, orange, and yellow pigments called carotenoids. Beta carotene and other carotenoids provide approximately 50% of the vitamin A needed in the American diet. Beta carotene can be found in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. It can also be made in a laboratory.
Beta carotene is used to decrease asthma symptoms caused by exercise; to prevent certain cancers, heart disease, cataracts, and age related macular degeneration (AMD); and to treat AIDS, alcoholism, Alzheimer’s disease, depression, epilepsy, headache, heartburn, high blood pressure, infertility, Parkinson’s disease, rheumatoid arthritis, schizophrenia, and skin disorders including psoriasis and vitiligo.
Beta carotene is also in used in malnourished (underfed) women to reduce the chance of death and night blindness during pregnancy, as well as diarrhea and fever after giving birth.
Some people who sunburn easily, including those with an inherited disease called erythropoietic protoporphyria (EPP), use beta carotene to reduce the risk of sunburn.
There are many authorities – including the American Heart Association, the American Cancer Society, the World Cancer Research Institute in association with the American Institute for Cancer Research, and the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer – that recommend getting beta carotene and other antioxidants from food instead of supplements, at least until research finds out whether supplements offer the same benefits. Eating 5 servings of fruits and vegetables daily provides 6-8 mg of beta carotene.
What is Beta Carotene Possibly Effective for?
Treating sun sensitivity in people who have a form of inherited blood disorder called “erythropoietic protoporphyria.”
Reducing the risk of breast cancer in women before menopause when fruits and vegetables containing beta carotene are consumed. Beta carotene seems to be especially effective for women who are at high risk of getting breast cancer, including those with a family history and those who use alcohol excessively.
Treating an eye disease called age-related macular degeneration (AMD) when used with other medicines. Taking 15 mg of beta carotene by mouth along with 500 mg of vitamin C, 400 IU of vitamin E, and 80 mg of elemental zinc daily, seems to help prevent vision loss and worsening of AMD in people with advanced AMD. There isn’t enough evidence to know if this combination works for people with less advanced macular disease.
Preventing sunburn in people who are sun sensitive. However, beta carotene is unlikely to have much effect on sunburn risk in most people.
Keeping a form of arthritis called osteoarthritis from getting worse. But taking beta carotene doesn’t seem to prevent osteoarthritis.
Preventing bronchitis and difficulty breathing in smokers. Beta carotene from the diet seems to help, but beta carotene supplements do not.
Reducing the risk of ovarian cancer in women after menopause.
Reducing the risk of pregnancy-related death, night blindness, and diarrhea and fever after delivery in underfed women.
Preventing asthma attacks triggered by exercise.
Treating a tongue disease called oral leukoplakia.
Improving physical performance and strength in the elderly.
Colorectal cancer. Research shows conflicting results.
Esohageal cancer. Taking beta carotene supplements alone or in combination with other antioxidants such as vitamin A or vitamin E plus vitamin C doesn’t seem to reduce the risk of esophageal cancer.
Pancreatic cancer. Taking beta carotene supplements alone or in combination with other antioxidants such as vitamin A or vitamin E doesn't seem to reduce the risk of pancreatic cancer.
Side effects from chemotherapy. Increasing beta carotene from dietary sources seems to prevent some side effects in children undergoing chemotherapy for a blood cancer called lymphoblastic leukemia.
- Chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS).
- Stomach cancer.
- Parkinson’s disease.
- Rheumatoid arthritis.