Carotenes Health

Carotenes are a group of highly colored plant compounds, some of which can be converted into vitamin A in the intestinal wall and liver, as the body requires. They are also referred to as carotenoids. Beta carotene is the best known of the carotenes as it has high pro-vitamin A activity and is abundant in many foods. Other carotenoids include lutein, zeaxanthin, beta cryptoxanthin, lycopene and alpha carotene. Carotenoids interact with each other during intestinal absorption, metabolism, and clearance from the body.

What they do in the body

Antioxidant action

The beneficial effects of some carotenoids are partly due to their conversion to vitamin A. They also have potent activity of their own due to their ability to act as antioxidants and protect against free radical damage. This type of damage may lead to several medical problems, such as inflammatory damage and tissue injury after trauma; and chronic conditions, such as cardiovascular disease, eye disorders, autoimmune diseases and cancer. Carotenoids also affect cell growth regulation and gene expression.

Protection against cancer

High levels of dietary carotenoids have been linked to decreases in the risks of several types of cancer.

Colon cancer

In a small study of cancer patients done in 1997, Italian researchers assessed carotenoid levels in four healthy patients, seven patients with pre-cancerous lesions and seven patients with colon cancer. They found significantly lower carotenoid levels in the cancer patients.

Carotenes HealthBreast cancer

In a study published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute in 1996, researchers examined the links between dietary intake of carotenoids (including nonfood supplements) and premenopausal breast cancer risk. The study involved 297 premenopausal women 40 years of age or older who were diagnosed with breast cancer from November 1986 to April 1991.These were compared with 311 women without cancer. The results showed a reduction in risk associated with high intake of several nutrients including beta carotene, lutein and zeaxanthin.

In a study published in 1998, researchers in Missouri examined blood levels of various nutrients in women who developed breast cancer after donating blood to a bank over a ten-year period. They then compared these levels to women who were free of cancer. They found lower levels of the carotenoids beta cryptoxanthin, lycopene, lutein and zeaxanthin in patients who developed breast cancer.

In a 1997 study reported in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, researchers at Harvard School of Public Health compared carotenoid concentrations in the breast fat tissue from 46 cancer patients and 63 women with benign breast lumps. They found an increased risk in those with low levels of beta carotene, lycopene, lutein and zeaxanthin.

Lung cancer

Several population studies have shown lower levels of carotenoids in lung cancer cases. In a study published in 1998, researchers at Johns Hopkins University measured nutrient levels in blood samples from 258 patients with lung cancer and compared these with those in samples from 515 people free of cancer. Blood concentrations of cryptoxanthin, beta carotene, lutein and zeaxanthin were significantly lower among the cancer patients. Small differences were noticed for alpha carotene and lycopene.

Protection against cardiovascular disease

Population studies have shown that diets high in carotenoids can protect against cardiovascular diseases. They may do this by preventing the oxidation of LDL cholesterol and reducing free radical damage at sites of atherosclerotic plaque formation.

Researchers involved in the Massachusetts Health Care Panel Study examined the links between consumption of carotene-containing fruits and vegetables and death from cardiovascular disease among 1299 elderly people. The results of the study, which were published in the Annals of Epidemiology in 1995 showed that during the follow-up period of almost five years, there were 161 deaths from cardiovascular disease. The risk of death in the group who ate the most carotene-containing foods was almost half that of those people whose carotene consumption was low.

In a 1996 study UK researchers compared blood levels of antioxidant vitamins in Belfast, Northern Ireland with those of people in Toulouse, France where the incidence of coronary heart disease is much lower. The results showed that levels of carotenoids such as lutein, cryptoxanthin and alpha carotene were much higher in people from Toulouse.

Protection against eye disorders

Oxidative damage is also implicated in the development of eye disorders such as cataracts and macular degeneration.

Researchers at Harvard Medical School examined the link between cataract development and intake of various foods and antioxidant vitamins in over 50,000 women. The results of their studies showed that those with high beta carotene and vitamin A intakes were less likely to develop cataracts. Those whose diets contained spinach also seemed to have a lower risk. The researchers concluded that dietary carotenoids, although not necessarily beta carotene, can decrease the risk of cataracts severe enough to require extraction.

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Carotenes Health
Carotenes Absorption
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Other Vitamins:

Vitamin A
Beta carotene
Vitamin B6
Vitamin B12
Pantothenic acid
Vitamin C
Vitamin D
Vitamin E
Vitamin K