Much excitement has recently been generated among nutritionists and health-care professionals by a substance called Beta Carotene.
Not long ago, few people had heard of Beta Carotene. Even nutritionists didn’t pay much attention to it, thinking of it merely as a precursor of Vitamin A, one of a group of substances that is converted to Vitamin A in the body.
Yes, Beta Carotene can become Vitamin A, but it can do much more than that, and do it safely.
Beta Carotene reaches more areas of the body for longer periods of time than Vitamin A, and thus offers greater protection. Another advantage is that it protects against a toxic form of oxygen produced in our bodies called “singlet oxygen.”
Beta Carotene is a yellowish compound found in most yellow, orange or dark green vegetables; it is converted in the body into Vitamin A.
Other carotenoids, such as gamma-carotene, and cryptoxanthin, occur naturally in these same foods, but do not produce nearly as much Vitamin A. You will sometimes see the carotenoids referred to as a-carotene (alpha), b-carotene (beta) and y-carotene (gamma), as chemists have the custom of using the Greek letters for this purpose.
Excess Beta Carotene does not produce Vitamin A toxicity, because no more of it is converted to Vitamin A than the body requires at the moment. Excess Vitamin A in the bloodstream (as from animal sources or excessive supplementation) is eventually stored in the liver, with potential toxic effects.
Beta Carotene that is not converted into Vitamin A during absorption is stored until needed.
Medical researchers using large amounts of Beta Carotene report that their patients do not develop Vitamin A toxicity. (1)
- Beta Carotene: The backstage nutrient now universally recognized for cancer prevention, by Richard Passwater, Ph.D., Keats publishing, Inc., New Canaan, CT.