Beta-carotene is a type of carotenoid which is naturally present in fruits and vegetables like carrots, sweet potatoes, etc. These natural chemicals are responsible for giving the red or orange color to vegetables and fruits. Regular intake is necessary for human beings, as it gets converted into vitamin A when it enters the body. Many doctors recommend its supplements to people who have vitamin A deficiency. The reason for this is that when vitamin A supplements are taken in excess, they can cause several health problems. However, the body takes only that much vitamin A which it requires from beta-carotene and so is said to be a safe substitute.
Apart from being the precursor of vitamin A, beta-carotene is also an antioxidant that safeguards the body from getting affected by harmful chemicals called free radicals. These free radicals are responsible for the cause of chronic illnesses like heart diseases, cancer, etc. Hence, beta-carotene is said to be a necessary factor in treating as well as preventing these dangerous diseases in human beings. However, research has also found certain side effects that may prove harmful for the body. Nevertheless, before we move onto the potential side effects, let us know its benefits.
As vitamin A is necessary for the proper functioning of the body, it is important to consume foods rich in beta-carotene. Human beings require 700 - 900 micrograms everyday, and so its daily intake should be somewhere around 8.54 - 10.8 mg. Though beta-carotene is available in the form of tablets as well as gel, the best way of consuming it is through one's diet.
Foods that are its rich sources include spinach, broccoli, winter squash, tomatoes, lettuce, carrots, green peppers, cantaloupes, sweet potatoes, apricots, etc. Therefore, it is very important to include these vegetables and fruits in one's daily diet. It is said that more the color of the fruit or vegetable, more is the content of beta-carotene in it.
As it is said to be a precursor of vitamin A, intake of foods rich in beta-carotene is necessary for preventing eye problems. It is responsible for a person to have clear eyesight, healthy skin, as well as a strong and healthy immune system. Macular degeneration and cataract are two common eye problems that appear during old age. Though it cannot totally prevent these diseases, it has been observed that it can slow down their progress.
Beta-carotene is also used for treating people who suffer from sun sensitivity. It is said to be the best treatment for people who have a rare genetic skin disorder called erythropoietic protoporphyria, due to which they are sensitive to the skin. It is a good way of treating health problems like asthma, arthritis, psoriasis, depression, high blood pressure, infertility, etc. Apart from these, it is also said to be useful for treating as well as preventing heart diseases in people. However, there is no definite evidence to prove this point.
- One of the common effects is skin discoloration. Certain parts of the skin like the soles of the feet, palms, feet, and sometimes even the face may turn yellow in color, when beta-carotene supplements are being taken. However, this is not dangerous and is also a temporary phenomenon which goes away within a few days.
- There are also some other side effects apart from skin discoloration, however, these are very rare and are not experienced by everyone. These side effects include joint pain and dizziness. The person may also experience diarrhea (loose stools) as well as unusual bruising or bleeding.
- Though it is said to be an effective way of preventing heart diseases, it cannot do so in isolation. This result is only seen when beta-carotene is taken along with antioxidants like vitamin E and C. Also, some studies have shown that rather than treating heart problems and cancer, it can cause these diseases in people who smoke and drink alcohol. People who are addicted to cigarettes, alcohol, and those who are exposed to asbestos, have a high risk of developing lung cancer, while taking beta-carotene.
- Pregnant women are advised not to take beta-carotene supplements, because it can affect the fetus in a negative way. Moreover, even women who are breastfeeding their children should avoid consuming these supplements as it may cause certain problems to the child. As there is not much evidence to prove the side effects on the fetus, pregnant women should consult a doctor before taking these supplements.
Though there are side effects, it is also crucial to consume beta-carotene. People who have been recommended by the doctor to take these supplements should follow the dosage level as advised by the doctor. If you observe severe side effects, the doctor should be informed immediately. For others, try to stick to the dietary sources rather than the supplements, to avoid getting affected by any of its side effects.
Disclaimer: The information provided in this article is solely for educating the reader. It is not intended to be a substitute for the advice of a medical expert.