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Beta-carotene is a substance from plants that the body converts into vitamin A. It also acts as an antioxidant and an immune system booster. Beta carotene has two roles in the body. It can be converted into vitamin A (retinol) if the body needs more vitamin A. If the body has enough vitamin A, instead of being converted, beta carotene acts as an antioxidant which protects cells from damage caused by harmful free radicals. Other members of the antioxidant carotenoid family include cryptoxanthin, alpha-carotene, zeaxanthin, lutein, and lycopene. However, unlike beta-carotene, most of these nutrients are not converted to vitamin A in significant amounts.
Most beta-carotene in supplements is synthetic, consisting of only one molecule called all trans beta-carotene. Natural beta-carotene, found in food, is made of two molecules—all trans beta-carotene and 9-cis beta-carotene. Much of natural beta-carotene is in the all trans molecule form—the same as synthetic beta-carotene. Moreover, much of the 9-cis molecule found only in natural beta-carotene is converted to the synthetic molecule before it reaches the bloodstream. Also, absorption of 9-cis beta-carotene appears to be poor, though some researchers question this finding.
Despite the overlap between natural and synthetic forms, natural beta-carotene may possibly have activity that is distinct from the synthetic form. For example, studies in both animals and humans have shown that the natural form has antioxidant activity that the synthetic form lacks. Also, in one trial, pre-cancerous changes in people reverted to normal tissue with natural beta-carotene supplements, but not with synthetic supplements.
Everyone seeking to live a healthy and active lifestyle can benefit from this nutrient. Beta-carotene. like most carotenoids, is also a powerful antioxidant – so it has been recommended to protect against a variety of diseases such as cancer, cataracts and heart disease. The best food sources are brightly colored fruits and veggies such as cantaloupe, apricots, carrots (duh!), red peppers, sweet potatoes and dark leafy greens. These are everyday products that can be found in your neighborhood grocery store. The supplement brands are becoming very good with the use of green food products being manufactured today.
Always follow the manufactures recommended dosages. As more research is need there are at this time know major side effects reported.
Israeli researchers have investigated whether the special antioxidant effects of natural beta-carotene might help people suffering from asthma attacks triggered by exercise. People with asthma triggered by exercise were given 64 mg per day of natural beta-carotene for one week. In that report, 20 of 38 patients receiving natural beta-carotene were protected against exercise-induced asthma. However, because synthetic beta-carotene was not tested, the difference between the activity of the two supplements cannot be deduced from this report. Current research indicates that a diet rich in foods containing beta-carotene may reduce the risk of developing certain types of cancer and offers protect against heart disease. Beta-carotene offers protection against other diseases as well as some degenerative aspects of aging.
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