Does Alpha Carotene Increase Longevity
The bottom line says that alpha carotene from foods is very good but supplements have not been proven and beta carotene supplements proved harmful.
For many years there has been growing evidence that eating more fruits and vegetables reduces the risk of cancer, heart disease and other chronic ills. Carotenoids are plant chemicals with anti-oxidant properties that give many fruits and vegetables their yellow, orange and red color. For several years beta-carotene supplements became very popular in part because of claims they could be beneficial for reducing the risk of cancer. Unfortunately, randomized controlled trials failed to show any benefit for beta-carotene supplements and two large studies actually found a significant increased risk of dying and particularly from lung cancer in smokers. However, the fact that beta-carotene supplements failed to reduce disease and help people live longer did not negate other data showing that something in fruits and vegetables reduces disease and increase life expectancy. So while high doses of beta-carotene supplements are clearly of no benefit and appear harmful at least to smokers it is possible another carotenoid or perhaps a mix of them could reduce disease risk.
With that in mind Dr. Chaoyang Li at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention decided to look at the impact of higher levels of alpha-carotene in the blood of 15,318 adults who participated in a national study. The subjects underwent a medical examination and provided blood samples between 1988 and 1994, and were then followed through 2006 to determine their risk of death and disease. During the follow-up period 3,810 participants died and Dr. Li?s group found the risk for dying was significantly lower for individuals with higher levels of alpha-carotene in their blood. Individuals with the lowest blood alpha-carotene levels (<1mcg/dl), had a risk of death 39% lower than those with levels of 9mcg/dl or higher. Higher alpha-carotene in the blood appeared to be associated with lower risk of dying from both cardiovascular disease and cancer. This study will appear March 28, 2011 print issue of Archives of Internal Medicine. This study?s results are consistent with data from population-based case-control studies looking at the consumption of fruits and vegetables and the risk of lung cancer which found more carrots, sweet potatoes or pumpkin and winter squash, broccoli, green beans, peas, and green leafy vegetables (all with a high alpha-carotene content) were the most strongly associated with a decreased risk of lung cancer than other vegetables or fruits. Most of these are high in beta-carotene as well.
Bottom Line: The results of this study support increasing alpha-carotene-rich vegetable consumption as a way to reduce serious illness and increase life expectancy but they most certainly do not prove that alpha-carotene supplements can do the same.
By James J. Kenney, PhD, RD, FACN
Judy’s passion for cooking began with helping her grandmother make raisin oatmeal for breakfast. From there she earned her first food service job at 15, was accepted to the world-famous Culinary Institute of America at 18 (where she graduated second in her class), and went on to the Fachschule Richemont in Switzerland where she focused on pastry arts and baking. After a decade in food service for Hyatt Hotels, Judy launched Food and Health Communications to focus on flavor and health. She graduated with Summa Cum Laude distinction from Johnson and Wales University with a BS in Culinary Art, holds a master’s degree in Food Business from the Culinary Institute of America, 2 art certificates from UC Berkeley Extension, and runs a food photography studio where her love is creating fun recipes.
Judy received The Culinary Institute of America’s Pro Chef II certification, the American Culinary Federation Bronze Medal, Gold Medal, and ACF Chef of the Year. Her enthusiasm for eating nutritiously and deliciously leads her to constantly innovate and use the latest in nutritional science and Dietary Guidelines to guide her creativity, from putting new twists on fajitas to adapting Italian brownies to include ingredients like toasted nuts and cooked honey. Judy’s publishing company, Food and Health Communications, is dedicated to her vision that everyone can make food that tastes as good as it is for you.