Beta-carotene is the best-known vegetable dye and the most important substance in vitamin A. That is why it is also called provitamin A. It belongs to carotenoids, the so-called phytochemicals, which can be found in colored leaves, fruits, and roots.
The term is derived from the Latin word Carota, which means carrot in German. Beta-carotene is particularly common in kale, deep yellow to orange fruits, and other dark green vegetables.
With an average of 8.68 milligrams per 100 grams, kale has the highest beta-carotene content of all foods. In apricots, pears, broccoli, chicory, squash, mango, nectarines, peaches, arugula, and sweet potatoes are also abundant.
The substances are also found in peas, cherries, asparagus, and tomatoes. The proportions in wild plants such as dandelion and meadow sorrel are large too.
Benefits of beta-carotene
A total of more than 600 different carotenes are known. They are vital for all plants because they support photosynthesis and can prevent the negative effects of UV rays.
In their area of origin, the roots of plants develop their protective function against infections. Carotenes are not polar and are fat-soluble due to this property. In the human body, they can only be used together with a small amount of fat. It is said that carotenes have anticancer effects.
Its ability to act as a natural antioxidant has been proven to protect against the deterioration of body cells. Beta-carotene, extracted from natural sources or synthetically produced, is used as a food coloring and often also as a raw material for vitamin preparations.
In foods such as butter, lemonade, margarine, dairy products, and sweets, they are added in increasing amounts to giving the product a beneficial appearance.
Effects of an overdose
The absorption of vitamin A is much easier than that of beta-carotene. About six times more beta-carotene is required to supply the human body with a certain amount of vitamin A.
In nutritional medicine, a reference amount of 0.8 to 1.1 milligrams of vitamin A is applied daily to an average adult. Unlike a possible hypervitaminosis with vitamin A, symptoms of beta-carotene overdose in humans are not expected. In addition, the conversion of beta-carotene to vitamin A is limited, it is controlled by enzymes.
With a good supply of vitamin A, the responsible enzymes reduce their activity on their own. If the supply of the beta-carotene plant dye is excessively high for a long time, the skin may turn yellow in humans. These symptoms occur with all carotenoids, but particularly with beta-carotene.
The yellow color is seen for the first time in the nose, inside the hands, and on the soles of the feet. If the excess of carotenoids decreases, the yellowish color also disappears.
In humans, a toxic consequence of the increase in beta-carotene intake is unknown. However, years of excess supply carry greater risk for smokers and drinkers of developing lung and colon cancer.
According to serious studies, there is a connection between an increase in beta-carotene balance and the appearance of tumors (adenomas), especially in the large intestine, in the context of these risk groups. These are often the starting points for cancer.
Similarly, the dangers for heavy smokers are related to a possible lung cancer.
Use nutritional supplements very carefully
Especially as a dietary supplement, beta-carotene should always be added in the optimal amount. Too much can lead to health risks since the vegetable raw material or its variant synthesized in the form of capsules or powder is highly concentrated.
Since beta-carotene is also found in many vitamin replacement medications, caution is also necessary when taking them. If you prefer nutritional supplements, you should always pay attention to a healthy balance in your daily diet.
Varied whole foods are the best way to stay healthy and fit. Many vegetables and fruits are essential and naturally guarantee the optimal supply of beta-carotene and other carotenoids in human metabolism.
If you want a recommended dose of beta-carotene, take two to four milligrams a day in fresh fruits and vegetables. Too little beta-carotene can become a vitamin A deficiency, which can quickly lead to problems with immune defense.
This should be considered primarily by people with a predominantly vegan diet.
Beta-carotene contributes to healthy and beautiful skin
The body can store carotenoids when there is an excess. This storage is carried out mainly in the liver, certain fatty tissues, and also special layers of the skin.
Beta-carotene can also help keep skin healthy, not only externally but also internally. For example, the vegetal dye protects against damage that can result from intense sun exposure. Certain UVA rays can be intercepted or neutralized by this depth effect of beta-carotene.
The storage effect is particularly noticeable in the period of cold weather because there is always enough available to prevent vitamin deficiency. On the other hand, especially in winter, proper care is important to be or remain immune to colds.
In this case, the consumption of enough fruits and vegetables can be combined with the intake of nutritional supplements.
Beta-carotene helps improve vision
Beta-carotene and other carotenoids also have a great impact on healthy eyes and good vision. Vitamin A, which is made of beta-carotene, is very important for the eyes.
It is mainly needed for normal retinal work. An underdosing of vitamins for the eyes leads to an insufficient supply of nutrients, which often leads to symptoms of night blindness or poor overall vision.
Vitamin A, as the main representative of eye vitamins, is also a key component of the visual rhodopsin pigment (visual purple). This protein essentially provides the detection of light and dark and the diversification of shades of gray.
The production of the eye fluid is also partially controlled by the eye vitamins. In addition, some carotenoids such as lutein and zeaxanthin, especially protect the macula from harmful light. The macula is a specific area in the retina that is primarily responsible for the visual acuity of the eye.
With increasing age or when there is a lack of vitamins, the supply of lutein and zeaxanthin may decrease, so the macula only works in a limited way. In these cases, it is particularly sensitive to high energy blue light.
As a result, the macula may recede, causing visual acuity to deteriorate significantly.