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What Is It?
Beta-carotene is probably the best known of the carotenoids, those red, orange, and yellow pigments that give color to many fruits and vegetables. The body converts beta-carotene into vitamin A, a nutrient first identified in the 1930s and now recognized as vital to the growth and development of the human body.
As a potent immune-system booster and a powerful antioxidant it counters the effects of cell-damaging molecules called free-radicals beta-carotene has an important role to play in human health.
Consuming plenty of fruits and vegetables is an excellent way to supply your body with beta-carotene. In addition, beta-carotene is now sold in supplement form.
Scientists have long hoped that supplements could provide concentrated sources of beta-carotene and thus provide increased protection against heart disease and even against certain cancers. Recent findings, however, indicate that single, high-dose beta-carotene supplements may actually do more harm than good possibly increasing (rather than decreasing) the number of cell-damaging free-radicals in the body.
Until more information is available, it's probably wise to get beta-carotene in supplement form only as part of a mixed complex, along with other health-promoting carotenoids. Look for products that combine beta-carotene with other carotenes such as alpha-carotene, lycopene, lutein, zeaxanthin, and cryptoxanthin.
In addition to the numerous studies on beta-carotene's effectiveness for heart disease and cancer, researchers have been exploring the nutrient's potential for treating chronic fatigue syndrome, Alzheimer's disease, fibromyalgia, male infertility, and psoriasis. Interestingly, low levels of beta-carotene and other antioxidants have been linked to the development of cataracts, a clouding of the eye's lens that impairs vision.
And preliminary studies point to a possible connection between too little beta-carotene (along with low levels of vitamins A and E) and subsequent development of lupus, an autoimmune disorder.
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