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When it comes to nutritional supplementation, and antioxidants in particular, beta carotene is an antiaging micronutrient of the highest order, standing firmly alongside Vitamin C, Vitamin E, and the mineral Selenium in its ability to reduce illness, improve overall health, and increase longevity.
What can beta carotene do for you? Studies conducted over several years indicate that betacarotene may play a significant role in reducing the effects of certain illnesses (such as heart disease, decreased immune function, cataracts, and forms of cancer) and, in certain cases, perhaps even prevent them.
Beta-carotene acts as a precursor of vitamin A, and is therefore called a provitamin A compound. Foods or supplements containing beta-carotene are converted to vitamin A for the maintenance of healthy skin, good vision, and a robust immune system.
Beta-carotene is also a powerful antioxidant, and has been shown to help guard against cancer and heart disease.
Beta-carotene is a member of the carotenoid family, a group of powerful antioxidants that also includes alpha-carotene, lycopene, zeaxanthin, and lutein. However, of all the carotenoids, only alpha-carotene and beta-carotene are converted to significant amounts of vitamin A in the body, and beta-carotene is by far the most plentiful carotenoid found in fruits and vegetables.
Beta-carotene also contains flavonoids, which are antioxidant substances that give colour and flavour to many orange- and red-coloured fruits and vegetables. Foods such as carrots, tomatoes, sweet potatoes, cantaloupe, watermelon, apricots, and mangoes are good sources of beta-carotene; romaine lettuce, spinach, kale, and broccoli are also rich in carotenoids (the yellow colour is covered up by chlorophyll in green leafy plants).
Here's a tip regarding flavonoids: Many flavonoids in fruits and vegetables are in the skin, so it's best not to peel them before eating. However, grilling or lightly steaming some foods, such as carrots and spinach, can actually improve the body's ability to absorb the flavonoids in them.
There is enough evidence to convince most researchers that a diet rich in carotenoids plays a major role in preventing heart disease, strokes, and lung, stomach, and cervix cancers. Carotenoids, especially beta-carotene, also help prevent cataracts and Age-Related Macular Degeneration (AMD) by absorbing free radicals before they can damage the eye.
Recent studies indicate that while beta-carotene supplements may form a strong component of a longevity or health mined diet regimen, additional disease-fighting benefits may be obtained from carotenoid-rich foods. This may be because, unlike betacarotene supplements, foods containing beta-carotene also provide the body with fibre and other antioxidants such as alpha-carotene, lycopene, zeaxanthin and lutein carotenoids.
Of course, when it comes to nutrient supplementation, certain individuals may find they obtain greater, or fewer, benefits from specific micronutrients. Case in point, there have been some studies that indicate beta-carotene supplements may do more harm than good to smokers.
Beta-carotene doesn't have an established Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA), but the U.S. National Cancer Institute suggests that you get at least 6 milligrams of beta-carotene each day. Although carotenes are found in almost every fruit and vegetable, few people take in the suggested amount, and thus miss out on the vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and fibre found in carotenoid-rich foods. In addition, alcohol, birth-control pills, cigarette smoke, some cholesterol drugs, and methotrexate, a drug used to treat arthritis, psoriasis, and cancer, block beta-carotene absorption in the body.
If you are not a smoker, can't find a way to include more fruits and vegetables in your diet, or think you may need to supplement your carotenoid intake for some other reason, stick to supplements containing natural beta-carotene or a natural carotenoid complex. A carotenoid complex contains beta-carotene, lycopene, lutein, and other carotenoids. One ingredient to look for is Betatene, a trade name for a type of carotenoid complex extracted from sea algae, which is used in various supplements. It is also important to keep in mind that beta-carotene works best when combined with adequate amounts of vitamin E, zinc, and selenium, so people wishing to increase the amount of beta-carotene in their diet should make sure to get enough of these substances as well.
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