Beta carotene is a carotenoid found in large quantities in carrots, as well as pumpkin, tomatoes, oranges and peaches. It ensures proper functioning of the organ of vision and protects the skin from harmful UV radiation, preventing sunburn.
What health-promoting properties does it exhibit? Sources of beta carotene in food and side effects of its excessive supply in the diet.
Beta carotene is a compound occurring naturally in food. In the human digestive tract it is transformed into its active form – vitamin A, which is necessary for the proper functioning of the body. Beta carotene belongs to antioxidants which are responsible for delaying skin aging processes.
Beta carotene – what is this compound?
Beta carotene, or vitamin A provitamin, is a compound classified as a carotenoid – natural plant pigments. Orange, red, and yellow colored vegetables and fruits have the highest concentrations. After being absorbed by the body, beta carotene is converted into vitamin A by liver enzymes and unsaturated fatty acids. Excessive amounts of beta carotene are excreted in the feces.
Health promoting properties of beta carotene
Beta carotene performs a number of important functions in the human body. This compound is a natural antioxidant, i.e. a substance with antioxidant properties which removes free oxygen radicals that can cause very dangerous diseases. Beta carotene delays skin aging processes and lowers the level of “bad” cholesterol.
A diet providing optimal amounts of this compound protects the body against heart disease and atherosclerosis. Provitamin A has a very beneficial effect on the functioning of the vision and prevents such disorders as dry eye syndrome, cataracts, macular degeneration, which can lead to loss of vision.
Beta carotene improves the functioning of the immune system, so it is worth enriching your diet with this compound especially during autumn and winter, when the body's natural immunity is weakened and susceptibility to infections increases.
This compound as an antioxidant inhibits oxidative processes that are harmful to health. In this way, it reduces the risk of cancer: cancer of the mouth, larynx, esophagus, and bladder.
Use of beta carotene in cosmetics
Beta carotene has beneficial effects not only on health, but also on beauty. It contributes to the reduction of wrinkles, as it stimulates the production of collagen fibers, and thus has rejuvenating properties. For this reason provitamin A is a frequent ingredient of anti-wrinkle creams.
Beta carotene also regulates the sebaceous glands, which is why it is used in cosmetics designed for acne-prone skin. The compound is commonly found in self-tanners and tanning lotions which protect the skin against the harmful effects of sunlight and prevent sunburn.
Beta carotene and tanning
Beta carotene is a compound, one of whose main functions is to support tanning. This pigment is partially stored in the skin, contributing to the prolongation of the tanning effect. Pro-vitamin A protects the skin from harmful UV radiation and is therefore considered a natural “sunscreen”. It protects against the formation of unsightly spots and reduces skin discoloration which may occur as a result of excessive tanning.
Beta carotene in food – where does it occur?
Beta carotene is found in foods of plant origin. A rich source of provitamin A is carrots, especially freshly squeezed carrot juice. This compound is also found in other orange, red and yellow colored vegetables and fruits.
Pumpkin, tomatoes, peppers, apricots, peaches, nectarines, oranges, melon and mangoes provide large amounts of beta carotene. Provitamin A is present, although in smaller quantities, in green leafy vegetables: spinach, cauliflower, broccoli, kale, lettuce, chicory. It is also found in green beans, peas and cherries.
Beta carotene is better absorbed by the human body in the presence of unsaturated fatty acids, so a small amount of olive or canola oil should be added to salads prepared with vegetables containing this compound.
What are the side effects of excess carotene?
Excessive amounts of pro-vitamin A products in the daily diet or taking high doses of beta carotene tablets as part of dietary supplementation can lead to yellow coloring of the skin. This condition is referred to as: carotenodermia or carrot jaundice, which does not pose a serious health risk but gives the skin an unsightly appearance.
If you notice yellowing of the skin while taking preparations with beta carotene, stop taking them – your skin color will return to normal in time. In order to prevent provitamin A overdose, it is necessary to read the leaflet or consult a family doctor before taking the preparations.
This will allow you to take beta carotene in safe therapeutic doses and thus avoid side effects. However, it is important to note that with prolonged use of beta carotene tablets (despite therapeutic doses), slight yellowing of the skin may occur.
Beta carotene in pregnancy – is it dangerous?
Vitamin A is essential for the proper functioning of the body and for the development of the fetus. However, it can be overdosed in a pregnant woman, which poses a very serious threat to the health of the child. The consequence of excessive intake of vitamin A by the pregnant woman can be birth defects in the fetus such as: hydrocephalus, microcephaly or cardiovascular diseases.
Beta carotene is converted into vitamin A in the digestive tract in amounts corresponding to the requirements of the pregnant woman. By taking beta carotene supplements or enriching the diet with this compound, there is no risk of overdosing, and thus no risk to the health of the baby and the future mother.