The Many Health Benefits of Carotenoids
What Are Carotenoids?
Carotenoids are a group of phytochemicals (plant-chemicals) that are responsible for many of the oranges, reds, and yellows that color our plant foods in nature. Carotenoids support the immune system, boost eye and skin health, and help prevent cancer and cardiovascular disease.
The two general categories of carotenoids are carotenes and xanthophylls. Carotenes are present in the yellow, orange, and red vegetables we eat while xanthophylls are generally found in green vegetables.
Good food sources of Carotenoids
- Beta-carotene: An essential carotene the human body converts to vitamin A. Carrots, sweet potatoes, and squash are excellent sources of beta-carotene.
- Lycopene: Red tomatoes, grapefruit, watermelon, and papaya all contain another type of carotene called lycopene, which is extremely important in preventing prostate and breast cancers.
- Lutein: Particularly important for healthy eyes and the prevention of retinal degeneration (macular degeneration), lutein is a xanthophyll present in dark green kale, broccoli, yellow egg yolk, and bell peppers.
Are Carotenoids Safe?
Carotenoids and Vitamin A are necessary for proper immune function, eye and skin health, and the prevention of various cancers. While Vitamin A can be toxic when taken at higher levels than the body needs, carotenoids are a safe way of getting the Vitamin A your body needs. This is because your body controls the conversion of beta-carotene into Vitamin A and does not allow itself to generate toxic levels of Vitamin A. Carotenoids are the safest way to achieve healthy levels of Vitamin A in the body.
Natural vs. Synthetic Carotenes
Using only the natural forms, as opposed to the synthetic forms, of beta-carotene and other carotenes is strongly recommended. The synthetic forms may be damaging to the body as they are used to quench various oxidizing chemicals in the tissues, especially chemicals from cigarette smoke and the environment. The synthetic forms, when oxidized, may cause lung cancer in smokers.
Are Carotenoids Important for Health?
Carotenoids play a very important role in maintaining good health and preventing diseases, such as cardiovascular disease and cancer, as they are some of the strongest naturally occurring antioxidants known. There is clear scientific evidence in support of their beneficial role as antioxidant phytochemicals in the prevention of several chronic diseases.
Free radicals cause oxidative damage (almost like rusting) of cellular DNA, proteins and lipids, resulting in the initiation or development of numerous diseases such as cancer, cardiovascular diseases, type 2 diabetes mellitus, cataracts, rheumatoid arthritis, and/or various neurodegenerative diseases. Because of their strong antioxidant activity, carotenoids play a crucial role in preventing these diseases.
Chemoprotective Effects of Carotenoids
Carotenoids protect against colon and rectal cancers by modulating the proliferative activity of cancer-causing proteins in the gut tissues.
Carotenoids have also been shown to have preventive or chemoprotective effects against skin cancers and cancers arising from the epithelial tissues such as skin and the tissues lining much of your gastrointestinal tract, respiratory tract, urinary tract and various organs.
Research also demonstrates that carotenoids protect your heart and play an important role in extending life expectancy.
Other Benefits of Carotenoids
Carotenoids have a multitude of health benefits. Here are some of the ways the doctors at University Health Clinic prescribe carotenoids:
- as an antiviral and supportive treatment in viral bronchitis
- with patients at risk for sun-damaged skin and skin cancer due to excessive sun exposure
- with patients who have systemic lupus. This is especially important for protecting them from the solar reactions and dermatitis common in lupus patients
- to help prevent prostate and breast cancer (by using high-doses of lycopene)
- to treat patients who have macular degeneration (with high doses of lycopene)
Safe and Healthy Supplemental Forms of Carotenoids
Beta Plex: Scientific Botanicals Beta-PLEX is a full-spectrum carotenoid complex. Carotenoids are not toxic (your body controls the conversion of carotenes to Vitamin A). With Scientific Botanicals Beta-PLEX herbal formulation, you can achieve the important health benefits and disease prevention effects of mixed natural carotenes safely and easily.
Ocu-Clear: Thorne Ocu-Clear enhances antioxidant activity in the eye and is of specific benefit to the retina (particularly in retinal or macular degeneration). The protective nutrients in Thorne Ocu-Clear include the full spectrum of carotenes (from mixed carotenes), selenium, zinc, vitamin C, lipoic acide, glutathione, and vitamin E, all of which are vital components for clear vision and retinal health.
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About the Writer
Dr. Donovan is a Naturopathic Physician, author, educator, and a professor of clinical medicine at Bastyr University's Natural Health Clinic. In 2010 he was voted by his professional peers as one of Seattle’s Top Doctors in the Seattle Metropolitan Magazine. Dr. Donovan writes and lectures on the transformational process of healing and believes a person’s healing journey is ultimately a quest for his/her identity, purpose and meaning. He has more than 35 years of patient care experience as a Registered Nurse (RN) and a Naturopathic Physician (ND), representing a wide range of clinical settings from hospital-based surgical and intensive care as a registered nurse to outpatient primary care as a physician.
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