β-Carotene is an organic, strongly colored red-orange pigment abundant in fungi, plants, and fruits. It is a member of the carotenes, which are terpenoids (isoprenoids), synthesized biochemically from eight isoprene units and thus having 40 carbons. Among the carotenes, β-carotene is distinguished by having beta-rings at both ends of the molecule. β-Carotene is biosynthesized from geranylgeranyl pyrophosphate.
Beta-carotene is found in many foods and is sold as a dietary supplement. β-Carotene contributes to the orange color of many different fruits and vegetables. Vietnamese gac (Momordica cochinchinensis Spreng.) and crude palm oil are particularly rich sources, as are yellow and orange fruits, such as cantaloupe, mangoes, pumpkin, and papayas, and orange root vegetables such as carrots and sweet potatoes. The color of β-carotene is masked by chlorophyll in green leaf vegetables such as spinach, kale, sweet potato leaves, and sweet gourd leaves.Vietnamese gac and crude palm oil have the highest content of β-carotene of any known plant sources, 10 times higher than carrots, for example. However, gac is quite rare and unknown outside its native region of Southeast Asia, and crude palm oil is typically processed to remove the carotenoids before sale to improve the color and clarity.
|Beneficial effects of beta carotene|
As a provitamin of vitamin A, the importance of beta carotene in an individual depends on their level of pre-formed vitamin A. It is therefore difficult to define a beta- carotene deficiency. Beta carotene also interacts with other carotenoids during absorption and metabolic processes.
Studies have shown an association between high dietary intake of beta carotene and a reduced risk of heart disease and cancer. This may be due to the antioxidant properties of the molecule.
The absorption of beta carotene is facilitated by dietary fats and bile salts in the small intestine. Around 10% to 90% of the total dietary beta carotene is thought to be absorbed in the gut, with absorption decreasing, the higher the intake is. Low fat diets also reduce the amount of beta carotene absorbed.
Smokers have a low blood level of beta carotene, as do individuals with a high alcohol intake and those with HIV infection. People with impaired fat absorption from diet due to conditions such as jaundice, liver cirrhosis and cystic fibrosis also have a low blood level of beta carotene. Beta carotene is excreted in the feces and sweat.
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