menu | welcome | catalog | search | glossary | newsletter | order

Vitamins Glossary | Main Glossary Directory | Product Catalog | Main Menu

SMART Basics
Vitamins Glossary
Data Field

Beta carotene, the naturally occurring orange pigment found in abundance in such plants as carrots, squash, and pumpkins, is an exciting and powerful fat-soluble antioxidant with tremendous ability to neutralize free radicals, prevent cancer, and fight infectious diseases. Beta carotene is also referred to as provitamin A because in its natural form it is not readily available for use in our bodies. When we need extra vitamin A, beta carotene undergoes a transformation as powerful liver enzymes split each molecule of beta carotene to form two molecules of vitamin A. This unique feature enables beta carotene to be non-toxic at doses ranging as high as 500,000 iu per whereas vitamin A retinol can produce toxic effects in relatively low doses. One interesting side effect of consuming high levels of beta carotene is that the skin may become yellow-orange in color, especially on the hands and feet. Adequate intake of beta carotene will prevent Xerophthalmia or night blindness. In addition to promoting good vision, beta carotene also protects the heart and cardiovascular system, boosts immune functions, speeds recovery from respiratory infections such as colds and flu, and promotes wound healing.

Researchers are now focused on beta carotene's impressive ability to quench singlet oxygen free radicals, leading to a greater understanding of its role in slowing down the aging process, preventing the formation of tumors, and possibly reversing the course of certain forms of cancer. Major studies are currently under way to document it's effectiveness in preventing lung cancer and heart attacks, and a recent study presented at an American Cancer Society seminar found that beta carotene was able to reduce by half the number of precancerous mouth lesions in over 53% of test subjects diagnosed with precancerous mouth lesions.

A new study by Oregon research physicians suggests that massive doses of beta carotene, a compound found in carrots and many other vegetables, may improve the immune systems of people infected with AIDS. Doctors at Oregon Health Sciences University say beta carotene increases the number of blood cells that fight infections. Their findings are scheduled to be published in the March issue of the Journal of Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome. Dr. Gregg Coodley, the study's principal investigator, said the new finding raises hopes that beta carotene used with anti-viral treatments, such as AZT, could delay an HIV infection from turning into full-blown AIDS.

Beta Carotene is available in caps ranging from 5,000, 35,000 and 50,000 iu. Natural sources of beta carotene include carrots, yams, dark green and yellow vegetables.


Beta carotene is a nutrient found in the most abundance in yellow and dark green fruit and vegetables-foods like apricots, squash, cantaloupe, broccoli, spinach, and sweet potatoes. Its ability to prevent heart attacks came as a surprise to Dr. Charles Hennekens of Boston's Brigham and Women's Hospital, who was really interested in studying beta carotene's cancer-fighting capacity. In 1990, nearly halfway through a 10-year study, Hennekens looked specifically at the data from 333 of the 22,000 men in this Physicians' Health Study. These men were selected because they all had evidence of coronary artery disease, including angina, (the chest pain that occurs when the arteries that serve the heart are obstructed) at the start of the study.

After 6 years, 27 of the 333 men had suffered heart attacks: 10 in the group taking 50 mg (83,350 IU) of beta carotene every other day, and 17 in the group taking the placebo, representing an almost 40% lower risk for the beta carotene group. Among the men taking both beta carotene and aspirin, there were no heart attacks at all. In fact, Hennekens reported, those men taking the 50-mg dose of beta carotene had about half the number of heart attacks, strokes, cardiac arrests, or operations to open or bypass clogged arteries.1

It seems to be beta carotene's antioxidant capacity-specifically its ability to prevent the oxidation of cholesterol-that explains its protective role in heart disease. Recent evidence has shown that cholesterol is most dangerous after it has been oxidized or damaged, thus releasing free radicals into the bloodstream, where they can damage delicate arteries. These sites of damage attract the fatty deposits that eventually clog the arteries. Free radicals may also oxidize low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol (the "bad" cholesterol), which makes the macrophages transporting the LDL turn into foam cells that form atherosclerotic plaques.


Web Orders E-mail Customer Service Toll-Free (USA/Canada)
Order Page Smart Basics1-415-749-3990 1-800-878-6520

Top of Page

menu | welcome | catalog | search | glossary | newsletter | order

Copyright© 1996,
Smart Basics, Inc.


Comments and
suggestions to:
SmartBasics Webmaster