There’s a reason we were told to eat our carrots to see better.
It’s because beta-carotene is found in orange, red and yellow vegetables and fruits, as well as leafy greens. And beta-carotene is vital for the integrity of various eye structures. Low intake of beta-carotene is associated with increased incidence of cataracts, which look like a blind spot in the center of vision.1
This carotenoid is also known as vitamin A, into which it gets converted in the body. It is an antioxidant that provides a boost not just for eye health but also for immunity and cancer prevention. When beta-carotene gets converted to vitamin A, it’s been the subject of some controversy because of toxicity issues when exceeding 10,000 International Units (IUs) a day for extended periods.2 This is because vitamin A is quickly absorbed and, being fat-soluble, accumulates in fat tissue and so is slowly excreted. It’s important to note that this is vitamin A, and not beta-carotene.
Beta-carotene as vitamin A fights infections. The Linus Pauling Institute, known best for its vitamin C work but in fact knowledgeable in all vitamins, explains its efficacy against infections this way: “The skin and mucosal cells (cells that line the airways, digestive tract, and urinary tract) function as a barrier and form the body’s first line of defense against infection. Retinol and its metabolites are required to maintain the integrity and function of these cells. Vitamin A and retinoic acid play a central role in the development and differentiation of white blood cells, such as lymphocytes, which play critical roles in the immune system.”3
Vitamin A also exhibits anti-tumor activity. For example, in the Physician’s Health Study, which gave 22,000 American male doctors 50 milligrams of beta-carotene every other day for 12 years, beta-carotene led to fewer incidences of prostate cancer.4
Beta-carotene also helps women worrying about breast cancer. Researchers checked in with about 650 postmenopausal women and found those with the highest intake of beta-carotene from various dietary sources for between 20 and 45 years had a lower risk of breast cancer.5
Do you suppose that’s why Bugs Bunny never seemed to have any health problems?
Disclaimer: The information provided in this section is a public service of WellWise.org, and should not in any way substitute for the advice of a qualified healthcare professional and is not intended to constitute personal medical advice.