Beta-carotene is the red-orange pigment found in many fruits and vegetables. It is an important part of a healthy daily diet and an excellent source of vitamin A. When you eat foods rich in beta-carotene or take beta-carotene supplements, it leads to the body's ability to produce vitamin A when needed.
What Is Vitamin A?
Vitamin A is fat-soluble vitamin found in many foods sources, especially fruits, vegetables and other plant-based products. This vitamin is important for normal vision, reproduction and immune system health. Vitamin A is necessary in helping the lungs, heart, kidneys and other organs in the body to work properly.
Benefits of Vitamin A
Vitamin A plays a vital role in the human body. In the eyes, vitamin A helps maintain vision by keeping the cornea clear. The cornea is like the window for the eyes and without enough of this vitamin, the cornea can become cloudy and affect vision. Vitamin A is also essential for the health of the retina. The retina is the part of the eye that reacts chemically when light strikes it, creating nerve impulses that go to the brain. Vitamin A can help prevent a condition known as night blindness. Without adequate amounts of vitamin A, the eyes recover slowly after flashes of light, making it difficult to see in dim light.
Vitamin A has another basic function in the body, and that is to maintain the surfaces of the skin, the mucous membrane lining in the nose and throat, and the tissues in the bladder, intestines, and other internal cavities within the body. This helps boost immunity.
Reasons to take Beta-Carotene
Along with being a good source of vitamin A, taking beta-carotene may help prevent certain cancers, especially those of the lungs, stomach, mouth, cervix and esophagus. It can also be beneficial in treating some common health issues, like genital herpes, colds and flu, osteoarthritis, low immunity in HIV patients, and angina.
Recommend Daily Allowance
There is not a recommended daily allowance for beta-carotene, but there is for Vitamin A. The RDA for vitamin A for both men and women is 5,000 IUs daily, or 1,500 retinal equivalents (RE).
For maximum absorption of supplements, take them with meals that contain some fat. Avoid taking supplements with meals that contain a large amount of pectin—a type of soluble fiber found in citrus fruits.
What happens if I take too much?
Taking more than 50,000 IU or 15,000 RE of vitamin A daily can lead to blurred vision, headaches, hair loss, dry skin, joint pain, drowsiness, diarrhea, and enlargement of the liver and spleen. Symptoms do slowly disappear as the dosage is reduced.
Who's at risk for deficiency?
Those at risk for vitamin A and beta-carotene deficiency are those who do not consume at least three serving of fruits and vegetables per day. Cigarette smokers and alcoholics are also at risk for deficiency.
Food Sources of Beta-Carotene
Good food sources of beta-carotene are dark green, leafy vegetables; orange and yellow vegetables; and yellow fruits. Other food sources include milk products fortified with vitamin A.
Overall, beta-carotene is a safe and essential supplement for optimum health, when taken as directed.