Beta-carotene is a member of the carotenoid family and has over 500 relatives. Carotenoids are yellow-to-red pigments found in all green plant tissues and in some species of algae. So far 21 different carotenoids have been found in human blood. The most abundant ones are alpha-carotene, beta-carotene, lutein, lycopene, cryptoxanthin and zeaxanthin. A molecule of alpha-carotene, beta-carotene, or cryptoxanthin can be split into two molecules of vitamin A in the body but the conversion of beta-carotene is by far the most effective. The six carotenoids are all antioxidants. They are very effective in neutralizing a highly reactive for of oxygen called singlet oxygen but also, to some extent, act to break up the chain reactions involved in lipid peroxidation.
Numerous studies have shown that people who consume a diet rich in dark yellow orange vegetables (carrots) and dark green vegetables (broccoli) are much less likely to develop cancer and heart disease.
It has also been established that people with low levels of beta-carotene in their blood have a higher incidence of heart disease and cancer, particularly lung cancer. The National Cancer Institute endorsed a study which found that women who consume lots of beta-carotene rich fruits and vegetables have a lower chance of getting cancer, including breast cancer. The Institution says that regularly eating lots of fruits and vegetables plays a key roll in cancer prevention, but whether the preventative action comes from beta-carotene or other nutrients in the produce has yet to be determined.
For people who don't like eating their fruits and vegetables, a beta-carotene supplement pill was introduced into the market. Millions of vegetable hating Americans hoped that by taking a pill instead of eating vegetables, they could get the same rewards as their counterparts who enjoy the taste of fruits and vegetables. But officials at...