Beta Carotene supplement health benefit, side effects, risks
June 2 2016 by
Ray Sahelian, M.D.

Beta carotene is an important carotenoid found in fruits and vegetables, for instance carrots. Beta-carotene is an antioxidant compound that gives foods such as carrots, sweet potatoes and cantaloupe their orange and yellow coloring; the nutrient is also found in some greens, like spinach and broccoli.
   Beta carotene is sold as a supplement but my preference is that anyone considering supplementing with beta carotene to do so in combination with other antioxidants and with other carotenoids and not to take the pills every day. Beta carotene is thought to be useful for eyesight health or in certain eye disorders. I have formulated a product for vision enhancement called Eyesight Rx.

MultiVit Rx High Quality Daily Vitamins and Minerals

MultiVit Rx Supplement Facts:
Vitamin A - Beta Carotene and Retinyl Palmitate
Vitamin C with Rose hips (ascorbic acid)
Vitamin D
Vitamin E (mixed tocopherols)
Vitamin B-1(thiamine hcl)
Vitamin B-2 (riboflavin)
Vitamin B-6
Folic acid
Vitamin B12
Pantothenic acid (d-calcium pantothenate)
Calcium (citrate)
Iodine (potassium iodine)
Magnesium (oxide)
Zinc (oxide)
Selenium (amino acid chelate)
Copper (amino acid chelate)
Manganese (carbonate)
Chromium (amino acid chelate)
Molybdenum (amino acid chelate)
Potassium (carbonate)
Green Tea (leaves)
PABA (para aminobenzoic acid)
Citrus Bioflavonoid Complex
Choline (bitartrate)
Betaine (HCI)
Beta Glucan
Lycopene is found in tomatoes and watermelon, Lutein (from marigold extract) is helpful for vision, Astaxanthin is a carotenoid, Zeaxanthin is helpful for vision, Octacosanol

Eyesight Rx with Beta Carotene

Reports from Eyesight Rx users indicate enhanced clarity of vision, colors being brighter, better focus, and overall improvement in close and distance vision. We've had reports of some people noticing this effect within a half hour, while most people notice improved vision within hours. Still others will realize their vision is sharper the next morning when they take their second dose.

Supplement Facts:
Vitamin C (Ascorbic acid)
Citrus bioflavonoids
     (eriocitrin, hesperidin, flavonols, flavones, flavonoids, naringenin, and quercetin)
Mixed carotenoids
     (alpha carotene, astaxanthin, beta carotene, cryptoxanthin,
Lutein, Lycopene, Zeaxanthin)
Bilberry extract (Vaccinium myrtillus)
Eyebright extract (Euphrasia officianales)
Jujube extract (Zizyphus jujube)
Ginkgo biloba (Ginkgo biloba)
Suma extract (Pfaffia paniculata)
Mucuna pruriens extract (Cowhage)
Cinnamon (Cinnamomum zeylanicum)
Lycium berry extract (Lycium Barbarum)

Beta Carotene in health and disease
Studies show beta carotene supplements may help reduce sun induced skin damage.
May reduce the risk of tumors and cancer.
Beta carotene, alone, has not been found to have much of an influence on cataract formation.
Smokers should avoid large doses of beta carotene by itself.

Brain cancer
Biochem Biophys Res Commun. 2014. Β-carotene inhibits neuroblastoma tumorigenesis by regulating cell differentiation and cancer cell stemness. Neuroblastoma is the most common extracranial solid cancer in young children and malignant NB cells have been shown to possess cancer stem cell characteristics.

Lung Tissue
People with high blood levels of beta-carotene may have better lung function as they age and both beta-carotene and vitamin E might offer some lung protection to heavy smokers. Lung function naturally starts a slow decline around 30s, but a healthful diet may help the lungs stay more youthful. Studies have concluded that supplements of beta-carotene, vitamins A, C and E, and other nutrients do not have a significant effect on smokers' risk of lung cancer. A new study included 1,194 adults ages 20 to 44. At the outset, participants had their lung function measured, as well as their blood levels of vitamins A and E, beta-carotene and a related compound called alpha-carotene. Lung function was gauged with an FEV1 score -- the amount of air a person can forcefully exhale in one second. Overall, the researchers found, men and women with higher blood levels of beta-carotene at the study's start showed a smaller dip FEV1 scores over the next 8 years. And among heavy smokers -- those who lit up at least 20 times a day -- higher levels of both beta-carotene and vitamin E were related to a slower decline in lung function. Smoking generates excess levels of potentially cell-damaging substances called oxygen free radicals -- molecules that antioxidants like vitamin E and beta-carotene are designed to neutralize. The body converts some of the beta-carotene is receives into vitamin A, while some is stored in tissues, including lung tissue. Beta-carotene may also preserve non-smokers' lung function by battling free radicals. The potentially damaging molecules are a normal byproduct of metabolism, and they are also generated by outside sources other than cigarettes -- air pollution, for example. Beta-carotene is not the sole player in lung or overall health. So it's important to get a mix of antioxidants and other nutrients from plant foods, rather than relying on pills. Thorax, April 2006.

Lung cancer risk in smokers
Long-term use of beta carotene and some other carotenoid-containing dietary supplements may increase the risk of lung cancer, especially among smokers, Researchers used questionnaires to assess use of dietary supplements, including multi-vitamins and individual nutrients, by more than 77,000 Americans over 10 years, and matched the results against data from the Surveillance, Epidemiology and End Results cancer registry to track the rates of lung cancer among them. They found that certain people – especially smokers – who took dietary supplements containing these nutrients, were at higher risk of developing lung cancer than the general population. according to a study by University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill researchers. February, 2009 issue of the American Journal of Epidemiology.
    Comments: Those who take beta carotene or carotenoid complex pills should consider taking them 2 or 3 times a week rather than daily.

Am J Clin Nutr. 2013. Metabolomic profile of response to supplementation with β-carotene in the Alpha-Tocopherol, Beta-Carotene Cancer Prevention Study. Two chemoprevention trials found that supplementation with β-carotene increased the risk of lung cancer and overall mortality. The biologic basis of these findings remains poorly understood. Male smokers supplemented with β-carotene developed metabolomic profiles consistent with the induction of cytochrome P450 enzymes, the primary metabolizers of xenobiotics in humans. These findings may shed light on the increased mortality associated with β-carotene supplementation in the ATBC Study and suggest the need to explore potential interactions between medication use and dietary supplements, particularly among smokers.

Q. I came across your site a few days ago and find it to be extremely informative with a genuine dedication to research. Its great to come across such a resource! I am now leaning very strongly to adding DIM and Beta Glucan to my regimen because of frequent colds /immunity issues. However I am a smoker and the studies indicate that beta carotene is dangerous for smokers. I was then wondering , do either DIM or Beta Glucans contain Beta Carotene?
   A. They do not.

Lung infections, lung disease
Plasma carotenoid concentrations in relation to acute respiratory infections in elderly people.
Br J Nutr. 2004.
We investigated the relationship of plasma concentrations of six major carotenoids (beta-carotene, alpha-carotene, beta-cryptoxanthin, lycopene, lutein and zeaxanthin) with the incidence and severity of acute respiratory infections. Baseline data from an intervention trial were used. Participants were 652 non-institutionalized elderly people (> or =60 years old) enrolled via two community-based sampling strategies in the Wageningen area of The Netherlands in 1998-99. Plasma carotenoid concentrations were divided into quartiles, the lowest being the reference. Frequency and severity of episodes during the previous 1 year, i.e. staying in bed, medical consultation and episode-related medication, were self-reported by means of a questionnaire. On average 1.6 episodes per person were recorded. The incidence rate ratio of acute respiratory infections at high beta-carotene status was 0.71 as compared with the low beta-carotene concentration group. No association was observed between beta-carotene and illness severity. alpha-Carotene, beta-cryptoxanthin, lycopene, lutein and zeaxanthin were not related to incidence or severity of the infections. We conclude that elderly people with a high plasma beta carotene concentration may have a lower occurrence of acute respiratory infections.

Beta carotene and eyesight
These are headlines that appeared in 2007, "Eyesight vitamin’ fails to prevent vision loss," "Beta carotene pills powerless against top cause of blindness, study finds." The article continues, "Carrots, rich in beta carotene, long have been thought to sharpen eyesight, but a new study suggests that beta carotene pills are powerless against a common type of eyesight loss among older people. Age-related macular degeneration is the leading cause of blindness in people 65 and older. The condition blurs the center of the field of vision, making it difficult to read, drive, thread a needle and even recognize faces. It affects more than 10 million Americans and there is no cure. An earlier large study had shown that beta carotene — when taken with certain vitamins and zinc — could slow or prevent eyesight loss in people with age-related macular degeneration. Commercial formulations of the eye-protecting combination vitamins are sold over the counter. But the new study found no benefit for beta carotene supplements alone against the eyesight disease. The finding is based on data from more than 21,000 male doctors who were followed for an average of 12 years. The doctors were randomly assigned to take either 50 milligrams of beta carotene every other day or a dummy pill. The doctors didn’t know whether the pills they took contained beta carotene. Roughly the same number of doctors in both groups developed the eye condition, suggesting beta carotene didn’t help or hurt. After 12 years, there were 162 cases of macular disease in the beta carotene group and 170 cases in the group taking the dummy pills. Currently the best advice might be to eat five or more servings of fruits and vegetables a day because it’s the combination of nutrients that seems to be the important factor."
   Comments: Important nutrients for macular degeneration include lutein, zeaxanthin, and fish oils. There is no reason to suspect a high dose of beta carotene would be helpful by itself. In fact, it is possible that by taking a high dose of one carotenoid, such as beta carotene, a displacement could occur in the retina of the other important carotenoids crucial for vision, namely lutein and zeaxanthin.

Side effects and risks
High doses of beta carotene, when used by smokers, can increase the risk for lung cancer.

Q. How safe is Vitalux with 25,000 iu of Beta Carotene that is being taken for age related macular degeneration. Our friend’s doctor told him not to take it. I would like your opinion.
   A. I am not a proponent of high dose beta carotene usage of 25,000 iu as found in Vitalux. There are many nutrients that are of benefit in macular degeneration.

Carotenoids supplement 120 capsules - Now Foods
Many diverse carotenoids besides beta carotene play vital roles in maintaining good health, especially in protecting against free radical damage. Yet, most Americans don't eat enough vegetables.

Serving Size: 2 Vcaps
Servings per container: 60
Supplement Facts
Vitamin A 12 mg/20,000 IU - 400%DV
   (as Beta Carotene)
Alpha carotene 400 mcg
Additional carotenoids 3 mg
     (from D. salina algae: zeaxanthin, cryptoxanthin, Lutein, Floraglo marigolds)
Lycopene - 3 mg
   (LYC-O-MATO™tomato extract) Broccoli concentrate (250 mcg sulforaphane) - 250 mg
Spinach concentrate - 100 mg
   (75 mcg lutein)
Tomato concentrate - 100 mg
   (140 mcg lycopene)
Kale powder 50 mg
Cabbage powder 50 mg
Brussels sprouts powder 50 mg

Research study, longevity
Plasma carotene and {alpha}-tocopherol in relation to 10-y all-cause and cause-specific mortality in European elderly: the Survey in Europe on Nutrition and the Elderly, a Concerted Action (SENECA)
American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 2005
The objective was to study the association of plasma carotene ({ alpha }-and beta-carotene) and alpha-tocopherol with all-cause and cause-specific mortality in elderly subjects who participated in a European prospective study. Plasma concentrations of carotene and alpha-tocopherol were measured in 1168 elderly men and women. After a follow-up period of 10 years, 388 persons had died. Results: Plasma carotene concentrations were associated with a lower mortality risk. This lower mortality risk was observed for both cancer and cardiovascular disease. The lower risk of cardiovascular death was confined to those with a body mass index (in kg/m2) <25. Plasma concentrations of alpha-tocopherol were not associated with all-cause or cause-specific mortality. Conclusions: This prospective study suggests that high plasma concentrations of carotene are associated both with lower mortality from all causes and with cancer in the elderly. For cardiovascular mortality, the inverse association was confined to elderly with body mass indexes <25.

Skin protection
Supplementation with beta Carotene or a Similar Amount of Mixed Carotenoids Protects Humans from UV-Induced Erythema
Human Nutrition and Metabolism
We compared the erythema-protective effect of beta carotene (24 mg/d from an algal source) to that of 24 mg/d of a carotenoid mix consisting of the three main dietary carotenoids, beta carotene, lutein and lycopene (8 mg/d each). In a placebo-controlled, parallel study design, volunteers with skin type II received beta carotene, the carotenoid mix or placebo for 12 wk. Carotenoid levels in serum and skin (palm of the hand), as well as erythema intensity before and 24 h after irradiation with a solar light simulator were measured at baseline and after 6 and 12 wk of treatment. Serum beta carotene concentration increased three- to fourfold in the beta-carotene group, whereas in the mixed carotenoid group, the serum concentration of each of the three carotenoids increased one- to threefold. No changes occurred in the control group. The intake of either beta carotene or a mixture of carotenoids similarly increased total carotenoids in skin. No changes in total carotenoids in skin occurred in the control group. The intensity of erythema 24 h after irradiation was diminished in both groups that received carotenoids and was significantly lower than baseline after 12 wk of supplementation. Long-term supplementation with 24 mg/d of a carotenoid mix supplying similar amounts of beta carotene, lutein and lycopene ameliorates UV-induced erythema in humans; the effect is comparable to daily treatment with 24 mg of beta carotene alone.

Ovarian cancer
Association of dietary vitamin A, carotenoids, and other antioxidants with the risk of ovarian cancer.
Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev. 2005.
Although a few studies have examined the relation of antioxidant intake to the risk of ovarian cancer, the results have been inconclusive. Questions still remain regarding the effects of confounding factors, such as menopause, tobacco smoking, and alcohol drinking, on the association between antioxidants and ovarian cancer development. To examine the association of the consumption of micronutrients from foods and supplements with the risk of ovarian cancer. Our findings suggest that dietary vitamin A and beta carotene are modestly protective against ovarian cancer, particularly among smokers. Our data suggest a role for retinoic acid signaling pathways in ovarian carcinogenesis.

Age-related cataract in a randomized trial of beta-carotene in women.
Ophthalmic Epidemiol. 2004.
To examine the development of age-related cataract in a trial of beta-carotene supplementation in women. The Women's Health Study is a randomized, double-masked, placebo-controlled trial originally designed to test the balance of benefits and risks of beta-carotene (50 mg on alternate days), vitamin E, and aspirin in the primary prevention of cancer and cardiovascular disease among 39,876 female health professionals aged 45 years or older. The beta-carotene component of the trial was terminated early after a median treatment duration of 2.1 years. Main outcome measures were visually-significant cataract and cataract extraction, based on self-report confirmed by medical record review. There were 129 cataracts in the beta carotene group and 133 in the placebo group. For cataract extraction, there were 94 cases in the beta-carotene group and 89 cases in the placebo group. Subgroup analyses suggested a possible beneficial effect of beta carotene in smokers. These randomized trial data from a large population of apparently healthy female health professionals indicate that two years of beta carotene treatment has no large beneficial or harmful effect on the development of cataract during the treatment period.

Absorption and supplementation
Effects of 6-month multivitamin supplementation on serum concentrations of alpha-tocopherol, beta-carotene, and vitamin C in healthy elderly women.
Int J Vitam Nutr Res. 2004.
Two hundred forty-one free-living, healthy women aged 60 years and older were recruited by newspaper advertisement in Hanover, Germany and its environs. As 21 women dropped out, data of 220 women (aged 60-91 years median 63 years) were included in this evaluation. Subjects were randomly assigned to receive either a multivitamin/mineral or placebo capsule with identical appearance for six months containing 36 mg 36mg vitamin E, 150 mg vitamin C, and 9 mg beta carotene. Serum concentrations of vitamin C, alpha-tocopherol, and beta-carotene were measured initially and after six months of supplementation. A six-month supplementation with physiological doses of antioxidant vitamins improves the blood concentration of these nutrients even in relatively well-nourished elderly women or, as seen for vitamin C, prevents reduction of serum concentrations.

Q. I need to take Vitamin A 25,000 IU in the form of mixed carotenoids, for three months and then reduce to 15,000 IU. What would be a good combination? I am concerned about my skin turning an orange hue. Is Beta Carotene the only one that converts to vitamin A. I noticed combinations with algae and other things in them. Do you get the same results as with straight beta carotene?
   A. Carotenoid supplements contain beta carotene along with several other carotenes. The ideal carotenoid supplement depends on which medical condition is being treated. High dose beta carotene ingestion causes the condition known as carotenemia, which is harmless. Beta carotene is not the only carotenoid that converts into vitamin A. Alpha carotene and beta-cryptoxanthin are primary carotenoids that can also convert into vitamin A.

Can you please comment on a study that shows taking beta carotene supplements increases the risk for lung cancer in smokers? Here is an excerpt, "Long-term use of beta carotene and some other carotenoid-containing dietary supplements may increase the risk of lung cancer, especially among smokers, according to a study by University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill researchers. The study, which also examined use of retinol, vitamin A, lycopene and lutein, appears in the February 2009 issue of the American Journal of Epidemiology. Researchers used questionnaires to assess use of dietary supplements, including multi-vitamins and individual nutrients, by more than 77,000 Americans over 10 years, and matched the results against data from the Surveillance, Epidemiology and End Results cancer registry to track the rates of lung cancer among them. They found that certain people – especially smokers – who took dietary supplements containing these nutrients, were at higher risk of developing lung cancer than the general population. Researchers at UNC and the University of Washington in Seattle gave questionnaires to men and women, aged 50 to 76, in western Washington state. Participants were asked about their use of multivitamins and individual nutrient supplements over the past 10 years (including frequency and dose), as well as about their health history and risk factors. Participants were followed for the next four years, at which time lung cancer rates were obtained. The results show that smokers’ risk of developing lung cancer increased with the length of time they took dietary supplements containing beta carotene, retinol and lutein."
    I have no reason to doubt the results of this study. I am not a proponent of taking high doses of single nutrients or carotene supplements. Perhaps taking too high a dose of one or two carotenoids causes imbalances in the function or activity of the other carotenoids that are beneficial to the body, or perhaps too high a dose of a single nutrient has the opposite effect. I would be interested to know whether the ones who took low amounts had any increased risk. Nevertheless, if a person wants to take beta carotene, they should consider rather taking a carotenoid complex and not every day but rather once or twice a week. I think it is a good idea not to take supplements every day but to take breaks from use, thus getting some of the benefits but minimizing any potential risks.

I am intrigued by your Eyesight supplement but, have a concern about it containing beta-carotene. I am a smoker ( a lite one) but nevertheless a smoker and have been told by my doctor to find a product that does not contain beta-carotene for my eyes. With that said, my question is; do you have a vision supplement that has lutein and other necessary carotenoids without beta-carotene since it is not recommended for smokers as research shows it can increase risk of lung cancer?
   The amount of beta carotene taken by individuals in the smoker studies was 20,000 units and higher taken by itself. The amount present in the eye formula is less than 10 units and it is combined with other small amounts of other carotenoids, including lutein. If you ate a small carrot you would get hundreds of times more than present in the eye formula. This carotenoid is healthy in small amounts, but not in massive dosages.