Carotenoids Background and Benefits
Carotenoids are a class of red-orange pigments that are primarily produced by photosynthesizing organisms such as green plants. Some photosynthesizing bacteria and fungi also produce carotenoids, as do spider mites and aphids. The primary biological purpose of carotenoids in plants is to absorb green light, which protects the plant from excess sunlight. Animals that eat these organisms can store carotenoids in various tissues, which may affect their color. For example, flamingos and some crustaceans have an orange color caused by carotenoids.
All carotenoid molecules contain eight isoprene rings. At least 600 specific carotenoids are currently known, and this number is continually increasing. They may be further subdivided into two classes, including carotenes and xanthophylls. Carotene molecules don’t contain oxygen atoms, while xanthophyll molecules do have oxygen.
Carotenoids with at least one unsubstituted beta-ionone ring have specific health benefits for humans. This group includes alpha-carotene, beta-carotene, beta-cryptoxanthin and gamma-carotene. Carrots are the best-known dietary source of carotenoids, although they are also found in many other orange fruits and vegetables such as pumpkins, sweet potatoes, cantaloupes, mangoes and papayas. Green vegetables such as spinach and kale also contain significant amounts of carotenoids, although the green color of chlorophyll in these plants masks the orange color of the carotenoids.
Uses of Carotenoids
The health benefits of carotenoids generally derive from their vitamin A activity in the body. These benefits include support for the skin, immune system, heart and eyes.
Immune system support
Carotenoids may support the immune system by supporting the production of specific types of white blood cells.
Heart health support
The antioxidant properties of carotenoids may support cardiovascular functions. The protection of the arterial walls and management of healthy blood cholesterol levels are the primary mechanisms for this benefit.
Eye health support
Carotenoid may help to maintain the macula in the eyes, which often degenerates with age.
Skin health support
Oral supplements of carotenoids may help to support the skin from oxidative stress, especially exposure to the sun. Beta-carotene is especially beneficial for this purpose.
Signs You May Need Carotenoids
Carotenoids in the diet are the primary sources of vitamin A. The primary signs that you may need carotenoids are therefore the symptoms of vitamin A deficiency, which primarily includes night blindness. You may also need carotenoids if your skin is red or itches due to excessive sun exposure. Some types of thyroid dysfunction that inhibit the conversion of beta carotene to vitamin A may also benefit from carotenoids.
Synonyms and Similar Forms of Carotenoids
Vitamin A, Alpha-carotene, beta-carotene, beta-cryptoxanthin, gamma-carotene