Beta-carotene is a red-orange pigment found in plants and fruits, especially carrots and colorful vegetables.
The name beta-carotene comes from the Greek “beta” and Latin “carota” (carrot). It is the yellow/orange pigment that gives vegetables and fruits their rich colors. H. Wachenroder crystallized beta-carotene from carrot roots in 1831, and came up with the name “carotene”.
Beta-carotene’s chemical formula – C40H56 – was discovered in 1907.
The human body converts beta-carotene into vitamin A (retinol) – beta-carotene is a precursor of vitamin A. We need vitamin A for healthy skin and mucus membranes, our immune system, and good eye health and vision.
Beta-carotene in itself is not an essential nutrient, but vitamin A is.
Beta-carotene, like all carotenoids, is an antioxidant. An antioxidant is a substance that inhibits the oxidation of other molecules; it protects the body from free radicals.
Free radicals damage cells through oxidation. Eventually, the damage caused by free radicals can cause several chronic illnesses.
Several studies have shown that antioxidants through diet help people’s immune systems, protect against free radicals, and lower the risk of developing cancer and heart disease.
Some studies have suggested that those who consume at least four daily servings of beta-carotene rich fruits and/or vegetables have a lower risk of developing cancer or heart disease.