Alpha-carotene is part of the fat-soluble carotenoid family and is one of the most abundant carotenoids in a healthy diet. The body can convert alpha- and beta-carotene into vitamin A for the maintenance of healthy skin and bones, good vision and a robust immune system. Because of this, it is called a precursor to vitamin A, or a pro-vitamin A compound but it is only half as effective as beta-carotene. However, its
antioxidant properties are more powerful than those of beta-carotene. Alpha-carotene contains flavonoids, which are antioxidant substances that give colour and flavour to many orange and red coloured fruits and vegetables which is why it is important to consume all colours of fruits and vegetables every day.
Antioxidants remove destructive free radicals from the body before they cause the tissue damage that can lead to chronic diseases like heart disease and cancer. In addition, alpha-carotene may help prevent cancer by stimulating cell-to-cell communication, a process which researchers now believe is necessary to ensure proper cell division.
Alpha-carotene is a fat-soluble substance, which requires the presence of dietary fat for proper absorption. Medical conditions that interfere with the digestion of fats, such as Crohn’s disease, cystic fibrosis, surgical removal of the stomach, pancreatic enzyme deficiency and gall bladder and liver disease can inhibit the body’s ability to absorb alpha-carotene and other carotenoids.
People that take cholesterol-lowering medications,
tobacco smokers, those that regularly consume alcohol and those that have diets low in calories or lacking fruits and vegetables may also have lower than normal blood levels of alpha-carotene.
A common carcinogen found in cigarettes called benzopyrene can cause vitamin A deficiency. Consuming foods rich in carotenoids helps the body to produce vitamin A. Supplements should be avoided though as they have been known to worsen lung disorders in smokers.
NOTE: Most of the carotenoids in fruits and vegetables are in the skin, so it is wise best not to peel fruits and vegetables when possible. However, lightly steaming some foods, such as carrots, spinach and tomatoes can actually improve the body’s ability to absorb them.
NOTE: Carotenoids are fat-soluble which means they must be consumed with a little oil in order for the body to absorb them. Add a tablespoon of a cold-pressed oil such as coconut, fish, nut, olive, rapeseed or other
nut or seed oils.