What Does Beta-Carotene Do for the Body?

Swap regular potatoes for sweet potatoes to boost your beta-carotene intake.

Swap regular potatoes for sweet potatoes to boost your beta-carotene intake.

Eat a fruit or vegetable that is orange, such as cantaloupe or carrots, and you are increasing your beta-carotene intake, since beta-carotene is what gives these foods their color. Dark green vegetables, including spinach and broccoli, also provide beta-carotene. Consuming more beta-carotene helps increase your vitamin A levels and may help lower your risk for certain health conditions.

Vitamin A Precursor

Your body can turn beta-carotene into vitamin A as needed, since it is a vitamin-A precursor. You need vitamin A for good vision, a strong immune system and heart and lung function. Vitamin A also helps keep your skin healthy. Since your body only makes the amount of vitamin A you need from beta-carotene, getting too much of this nutrient from foods isn't a problem; however, very high levels can give your skin a yellow or orange tinge that goes away once you start eating fewer foods that are high in beta-carotene.

Body Fat

If you consume a diet high in carotenoids, including beta-carotene, it may help lower the amount of body fat you have. A study published in May 2009 in "The Journal of Nutrition" found that having a high intake of beta-carotene or other carotenoids was associated with lower body fat levels and a smaller waist circumference.

Sun Damage

Beta-carotene may make it less likely your skin will be damaged by the sun. It can be used to treat sun sensitivity due to a condition called erythropoietic protoporphyria, according to MedlinePlus. People without this condition can also experience some skin benefits from beta-carotene. For example, applying a beta-carotene cream to your skin can increase the beta-carotene levels in your skin and help prevent damage to your skin from infrared radiation, according to an article published in "Experimental Dermatology" in February 2011. Long-term use of a cream with low concentrations of beta-carotene is best for protecting the skin. However, consuming more beta-carotene isn't likely to totally protect you against sunburn for long, since the protection offered isn't as strong as what you get from using sunscreen, and it takes a few weeks of high beta-carotene consumption for you to experience any protective effect at all, according to a 2012 article published in "The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition."

Considerations

While taking beta-carotene supplements may seem like a good way to increase your beta-carotene levels, it is better to get this nutrient from food. Taking beta-carotene supplements may increase your cancer risk, especially if you are a smoker. These supplements may also interfere with certain medications, including statins and niacin.

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About the Author

Based in Massachusetts, Jessica Bruso has been writing since 2008. She holds a master of science degree in food policy and applied nutrition and a bachelor of arts degree in international relations, both from Tufts University.

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