What is Beta Carotene?
Beta carotene is one of a group of red, orange, and yellow pigments called carotenoids which are found naturally in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains but can also be made in the lab. Beta carotene is converted in our bodies to vitamin A and is responsible for approximately half of the vitamin A in our bodies. Once beta carotene is converted to vitamin A in our bodies, all of the functions of vitamin A can be performed.
There is only one proven health benefit for beta carotene in its original form (not converted to vitamin A) and that is treating sun sensitivity in people who have a form of inherited blood disorder called erythropoietic protoporphyria. Some studies show benefits from beta carotene in the following areas: decreasing breast cancer in premenopausal women, reducing the incidence of exercise induced asthma attacks, decreasing the risk of developing a condition of the eye called age-related macular degeneration, and reducing the risk of ovarian cancer in postmenopausal women. It is important to note that most benefits come from ingesting beta carotene in your diet but not from taking supplements.
Foods with high levels of beta carotene include sweet potatoes, carrots, dark leafy greens, butternut squash, cantaloupe, lettuce, red bell peppers, apricots, broccoli, and peas.
The recommended daily intake of beta carotene has not been set because there has not been enough research yet to so do; however, taking too much in supplement form can cause a yellow-orange coloration of the skin. If being used as a dietary supplement for individuals who cannot consume foods containing beta carotene in their diet, adults should limit beta carotene intake to 6 to 15 mg/day. For certain medical conditions where beta carotene is prescribed, the dosage should be recommended by your physician.