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Beta-Carotene

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What other names is Beta-carotene known by?

A-Beta-Carotene, A-Bêta-Carotène, Beta Carotene, Bêta-Carotène, Bêta-Carotène Tout Trans, Beta-Caroteno, Carotenes, Carotènes, Carotenoids, Caroténoïdes, Caroténoïdes Mélangés, Mixed Carotenoids, Provitamin A, Provitamine A.

What is Beta-carotene?

Beta-carotene is one of a group of red, orange, and yellow pigments called carotenoids. Beta-carotene and other carotenoids provide approximately 50% of the vitamin A needed in the American diet. Beta-carotene can be found in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. It can also be made in a laboratory.

Beta-carotene is used to prevent certain cancers, heart disease, cataracts, osteoarthritis, and age related macular degeneration (AMD). It is also used to treat chronic fatigue syndrome, aging skin, AIDS, alcoholism, Alzheimer's disease, depression, diabetes, epilepsy, headache, heartburn, a bacterial infection that may cause ulcers (Helicobacter pylori infection), high blood pressure, infertility, Parkinson's disease, rheumatoid arthritis, schizophrenia, stroke, and skin disorders including psoriasis and vitiligo. It is used to reduce symptoms of breathing disorders such as asthma and exercise-induced asthma, cystic fibrosis, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). It is also used to improve memory and muscle strength. Some people use beta-carotene to reduce toxicity associated with chemotherapy, including the development of white patches or swelling and ulcers that occur inside the mouth. It is also taken by mouth to prevent the development of new moles on the skin, death due to long-term liver disease, a disease called amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), and the enlargement of a blood vessel located near the abdomen (abdominal aneurysm).

Beta-carotene is also in used in malnourished (underfed) women to reduce the chance of death and night blindness during pregnancy, as well as diarrhea and fever after giving birth.

Some people take beta-carotene by mouth to prevent sunburn. Also, people take beta-carotene by mouth to prevent sensitivity to sunlight resulting from certain diseases such as erythropoietic protoporphyria (EPP) or polymorphous light eruption.

There are many authorities - including the American Heart Association, the American Cancer Society, the World Cancer Research Institute in association with the American Institute for Cancer Research, and the World Health Organization's International Agency for Research on Cancer - that recommend getting beta-carotene and other antioxidants from food instead of supplements, at least until research finds out whether supplements offer the same benefits. Eating five servings of fruits and vegetables daily provides 6-8 mg of beta-carotene.

Effective for...

  • Treating sun sensitivity in people who have a form of inherited blood disorder called "erythropoietic protoporphyria." Taking beta-carotene by mouth can reduce sensitivity to the sun in people with erythropoietic protoporphyria.

Possibly Effective for...

  • An eye disease called age-related macular degeneration (AMD). Taking beta-carotene by mouth along with vitamin C, vitamin E, and zinc seems to help prevent vision loss and worsening of AMD in people with more severe AMD. Taking this combination might reduce the progression of AMD to a more advanced state in people at low risk, but results are conflicting. Taking beta-carotene plus antioxidants but without zinc does not seem to improve advanced AMD. There is conflicting evidence about whether taking beta-carotene as part of the diet helps reduce the risk of developing AMD.
  • Breast cancer. Eating more fruits and vegetable that contain beta-carotene seems decrease the risk of breast cancer in pre-menopausal women who are at high risk of getting breast cancer. These include women with a family history of breast cancer and those who use alcohol excessively.
  • Preventing complications post-childbirth. Taking beta-carotene by mouth before, during, and after pregnancy seems to reduce the incidence of diarrhea and fever after childbirth.
  • Pregnancy-related complications. Taking beta-carotene by mouth seems to reduce the risk of pregnancy-related death, pregnancy-related night blindness, and post-childbirth diarrhea and fever in underfed women.
  • Sunburn. Taking beta-carotene by mouth may decrease sunburn in people sensitive to the sun. However, taking beta-carotene is unlikely to have much effect on sunburn risk in most people. Also, beta-carotene does not appear to reduce the risk of skin cancer or other skin disorders associated with sun exposure.

Possibly Ineffective for...

  • Preventing abdominal aortic aneurysm, or the enlargement of a large vessel running through the abdomen. Research suggests that taking beta-carotene by mouth for about 5.8 years does not prevent the development of abdominal aortic aneurysm in male smokers.
  • Alzheimer's disease. Eating a diet that contains a higher amount of beta-carotene does not seem to reduce the risk of Alzheimer's disease.
  • Cataracts. Taking beta-carotene alone or in combination with vitamin C, vitamin E, and zinc, for up to 8 years is unlikely to reduce the incidence or progression of cataracts.
  • Cystic fibrosis. Taking beta-carotene by mouth for up to 14 months does not improve lung function in people with cystic fibrosis.
  • Diabetes. Some early research suggests that eating a diet containing higher amounts of beta-carotene is linked with a reduced risk of developing type 2 diabetes. However, taking beta-carotene supplements does not reduce the risk of developing diabetes or diabetes-related complications.
  • Moles. Research shows that taking beta-carotene by mouth for 3 years does not reduce the development of new moles.
  • Liver cancer. Taking beta-carotene alone or with vitamin E for 5-8 years does not prevent liver cancer in men who smoke.
  • Liver disease. Taking beta-carotene alone or with vitamin E for 5-8 years does not prevent death due to liver disease in men who smoke.
  • Overall risk of death. Some research suggests that taking supplements containing beta-carotene, vitamin C, vitamin E, selenium, and zinc for about 7 years might lower the risk of death in men. However, it doesn't seem to benefit women. Also, other research shows that taking larger doses of beta-carotene in for up to 12 years may increase the risk of death in both men and women.
  • Stroke. Taking beta-carotene by mouth for about 6 years does not reduce the risk of stroke in male smokers. Also, there is some evidence that taking beta-carotene supplements increases the risk of bleeding in the brain in people who drink alcohol.

Likely Ineffective for...

  • Cancer. Most research shows that taking beta-carotene does not prevent or decrease death from uterine cancer, cervical cancer, thyroid cancer, bladder cancer, skin cancers, brain cancer, or blood cancer (leukemia). However, some research suggests a combination of beta-carotene with vitamin C, vitamin E, selenium, and zinc might lower cancer rates in men, but not women. Researchers speculate that men have lower intake of dietary antioxidants and therefore might benefit more from supplements.
  • Heart disease. A Science Advisory from the American Heart Association states that the evidence does not justify use of antioxidants such as beta-carotene for reducing the risk of heart disease. Evidence also shows that beta-carotene in combination with vitamin C and E does not decrease heart disease risk.
  • Colon cancer. Most research shows that taking beta-carotene by mouth, alone or with vitamins C and E, selenium, and calcium carbonate, does not decrease the risk of colon tumor growth. It also doesn't seem to reduce the risk of colon tumor recurrence in people who have had colon tumors removed, although it might reduce the risk of colon tumor recurrence in people who never drink or smoke. However, in people that smoke cigarettes and drink alcohol, taking beta-carotene supplements increases the risk of new tumors. It is unclear if dietary beta-carotene reduces the risk of colon cancer.
  • Lung cancer. Taking beta-carotene seems to increase the risk of lung cancer in people who smoke, people who used to smoke, people exposed to asbestos, and those who use alcohol in addition to smoking. However, beta-carotene from food does not seem to have this adverse effect. Taking supplements containing beta-carotene, vitamin E, and selenium for about 5 years does not reduce the risk of death in people previously diagnosed with lung cancer.
  • Prostate cancer. Taking beta-carotene supplements does not prevent prostate cancer in most men. In fact, there is some concern that beta-carotene supplements might actually increase the risk of prostate cancer in some men. There is evidence that men who take a multivitamin daily along with a separate beta-carotene supplement have an increased risk of developing advanced prostate cancer. Also, men who smoke and take beta-carotene supplements have in increased risk of developing prostate cancer.

Insufficient Evidence to Rate Effectiveness for...

  • Aging skin. Early research shows that taking 30 mg of beta-carotene daily may reduce signs of skin aging. However, taking 90 mg of beta-carotene daily doesnt have any benefit.
  • Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS, Lou Gehrig's disease). Taking beta-carotene supplements doesn't seem to reduce the risk of ALS. However, eating a diet high in beta-carotene seems to reduce the risk of ALS.
  • Asthma. Eating a diet high in beta-carotene does not seem to be linked with a reduced risk of asthma.
  • Side effects from chemotherapy. Eating a diet high in beta-carotene is linked with reduced toxic effects in children undergoing chemotherapy for a blood cancer called lymphoblastic leukemia.
  • Preventing complications of lung disease (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, COPD). Eating more beta-carotene in the diet seems to help prevent bronchitis and difficulty breathing in smokers with COPD. But beta-carotene supplements do not.
  • Mental performance. Some research suggests that taking beta-carotene for one year does not improve thinking skills and memory in older men. However, taking beta-carotene for up to 18 years may improve these outcomes.
  • Esophageal cancer. Taking beta-carotene supplements alone or in combination with vitamin A or vitamin E plus vitamin C doesn't seem to reduce the risk of esophageal cancer.
  • Asthma attacks triggered by exercise. Taking beta-carotene by mouth seems to prevent asthma attacks that are triggered by exercise.
  • Stomach cancer. Some research suggests that taking beta-carotene does not decrease risk of stomach cancer. Also, taking beta-carotene in combination with vitamins A, C, and/or E does not seem to reduce the risk of stomach cancer. However, some early research suggests that taking beta-carotene, vitamin E, and selenium might reduce the risk of stomach cancer in underfed, Chinese people who are at high risk. Also, taking beta-carotene seems to help treat precancerous lesions in the stomach in people at risk for stomach cancer.
  • Helicobacter pylori (H pylori) infection, which causes stomach ulcers. Taking beta-carotene by mouth, in combination with prescription drugs, does not help treat H. pylori infection better than prescription drugs alone.
  • HIV/AIDS. Some early research suggests that taking beta-carotene by mouth for 4 weeks helps improve immune system function in people with HIV. However, conflicting evidence exists.
  • White patches on the tongue and mouth called oral leukoplakia. It is unclear if taking beta-carotene by mouth decreases symptoms of oral leukoplakia. Some research suggests that it might when taken up to 12 months. However, at least in people that do not smoke, beta-carotene does not seem to help reduce symptoms or prevent mouth cancer.
  • Swelling and ulcers in the lining of the mouth (oral mucositis). Taking beta-carotene by mouth doesn't appear to prevent the development of oral mucositis during radiation therapy or chemotherapy.
  • Osteoarthritis. Higher dietary intake of beta-carotene may prevent osteoarthritis from getting worse, but it does not seem to prevent osteoarthritis.
  • Ovarian cancer. Eating a diet rich in carotenoids, including beta-carotene, may reduce the risk of ovarian cancer in women after menopause.
  • Pancreatic cancer. Taking beta-carotene supplements alone or in combination with other antioxidants such as vitamin A or vitamin E doesn't seem to reduce the risk of pancreatic cancer.
  • Physical performance. Eating a diet that contains a higher amount of beta-carotene seems to improve physical performance and muscle strength in older people.
  • A skin rash due to sun sensitivity called polymorphous light eruption. Some research suggests that taking beta-carotene by mouth can improve sensitivity to sun exposure in people with polymorphous light eruptions. However, conflicting research exists.
  • Alcoholism.
  • Chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS).
  • Depression.
  • Epilepsy.
  • Headaches.
  • Heartburn.
  • Hypertension.
  • Infertility.
  • Parkinson's disease.
  • Psoriasis.
  • Rheumatoid arthritis.
  • Schizophrenia.
  • Other conditions.
More evidence is needed to rate beta-carotene for these uses.

Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database rates effectiveness based on scientific evidence according to the following scale: Effective, Likely Effective, Possibly Effective, Possibly Ineffective, Likely Ineffective, and Insufficient Evidence to Rate (detailed description of each of the ratings).

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