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Healthy Vitamins

Beta Carotene and Vitamin A
 

Beta Carotene is NOT Vitamin A

There is a lot of misinformation out there about vitamins, including on beta carotene.  Many health professionals say that we can get vitamin A from various vegetables and fruits, like carrots, yams and watermelon.  However, this is really not correct information.  We can get beta carotene from them, and the beta carotene can be converted to vitamin A, but beta carotene is NOT vitamin A!  The FDA even allows labels for foods with beta carotene to label the carotenes as vitamin A, even though this is very misleading.  In addition, the food pyramid has demonized most of the foods that provide us with the most vitamin A:  egg yolks, liver, organ meats, butter, cream, whole fat dairy products and shellfish.

Beta Carotene is a Powerful Antioxidant

Beta carotene is of course a powerful antioxidant in and of itself that seems to protect against cancer, heart attack, environmental pollutants, allergies and more.  However, if you are taking beta carotene or eating beta carotene-rich foods thinking you are getting vitamin A, this may not be the case.  If we were truly healthy, humans could indeed convert carotenes to vitamin A, with early studies showing 4 units of beta carotene are needed to get 1 unit of A.  This has been revised more than once, and now researchers are saying the ratio is probably higher than 6:1.  This means that you need to eat a lot of carotene-containing foods in order to get enough vitamin A.  But of course you only get the conversion to take place if you have enough bile salts and fat enzymes to make it happen.

Many People Don’t Covert Beta Carotene Easily To Vitamin A

The problem is that there are huge portions of the population, children and infants, diabetics and those with thyroid or pancreatic problems, or with celiac or sprue disease, who either have a hard time making this conversion or can't do it at all.  Other things can also get in the way of the body making this conversion, such as use of certain Rx drugs, too high of a consumption of polyunsaturated oils or a low fat diet.

Low Fat Diets Cause Problems for Beta Carotene Conversion to Vitamin A

The reason that a low fat diet can cause a problem with converting carotene to A is because, as we explained above, you need bile salts and certain enzymes in order for this conversion to take place, but most of us try to follow the mistaken advice of eating low fat.  When we eat a meal low in fat, not enough bile is released to do the conversion.  This is why putting butter on your vegetables or eating cream with your vegetable soup is a wise tradition!

Stress Interferes With Beta Carotene to Vitamin A Conversion

Last, but not least, even people whose bodies do a good job of converting carotenes like beta carotene  to A do not seem to be able to quickly or adequately replenish their vitamin A stores from plant foods.  So if you are under a lot of stress, like most of us are in today’s modern world, you really need to get some of your A from animal foods, not just from beta carotene in plant foods like carrots.

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FDA Disclaimer:  None of the statements on this website have been evaluated by the Food & Drug Administration (FDA).  They are not intended to diagnose, treat,  cure or prevent any disease or medical condition.  Furthermore, none of  the statements on this website should be construed as making claims  about curing diseases or dispensing medical advice.  Please consult a  physician or another health care provider before trying any nutritional  supplement, making changes in your diet, or doing new exercises,  especially if you are pregnant or have any pre-existing medical  conditions or injuries.

 


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