Beta-Carotene Against Free Radicals
It used to be that beta-carotene was best known for the orange or dark green color it gave all those “healthy” vegetables that Mom nagged you to eat: carrots, broccoli, brussels sprouts and others whose bright hues made them difficult to hide in the mashed potatoes.
Studies have shown that beta-carotene may fight cancer, boost immunity, help protect against heart disease and even slow the effects of aging!
Amazing stuff, this beta-carotene. Yet it wasn’t too long ago that except for the fact that it’s a source of vitamin A, beta-carotene was virtually ignored by nutritionists and little known by the general public. The confusion existed because beta-carotene converts into vitamin A in our bodies as needed.
That’s important because preformed vitamin A from animal food sources, although necessary, can be dangerous in large doses. Vitamin A is a fat-soluble vitamin that is stored primarily in the liver, and high intakes can be toxic. But beta-carotene is much safer. Excess amounts generally pass through the body with no side effects. This is one of the reasons that beta-carotene may be the best way to get your vitamin A.
Perhaps beta-carotene’s greatest power is in preventing certain cancers, particularly those caused by cigarette smoking. The protective effects of beta-carotene are not limited to lung cancer. In the United States and abroad, researches have reported that low beta-carotene intake is associated with a higher risk of cancers of the stomach, bladder, breast, colon, mouth and throat.
That’s because beta-carotene acts as an antioxidant. Antioxidants-which include beta-carotene, along with vitamins C and E-help prevent oxidation, stopping free radicals.
In addition, beta-carotene and other antioxidants may also boost the immune system by producing changes such as an increase in the number of beneficial “natural killer cells” that gobble up harmful bacteria and viruses and help keep the immune system strong.
As Mom knew, beta-carotene is most abundant in orange and yellow vegetables like carrots, green leafy vegetables like spinach and in many fruits. While you can get certain amount of beta-carotene by eating just two carrots or ¼ pound of sweet potatoes, some experts recommend taking higher doses, usually around 15 milligrams, to prevent oxidation. That’s where supplements can be beneficial!