by Lynn Hinderliter CN, LDN

Many times it is really hard to correctly interpret the news we hear, and I often wonder whether this is because those who bring us the news are inclined to sensationalize, rather than analyze!  This is well illustrated by the controversy about Beta Carotene’s value as a dietary supplement.

The first important thing to realize is that there is a significant difference between synthetic and natural Beta Carotenes. Major studies have used  synthetic beta carotene, and also synthetic Vitamin A (Retinol). The latter has many restrictions on its use, and the former never comes in an isolated form in nature. The beta carotene supplements recommended by Holistic Practitioners are always the natural forms, containing such esoteric sounding substances as Zeaxanthin, Lutein, Lycopene, Alpha- Carotene, and Cryptoxanthin, which in nature accompany Beta Carotene.

The second thing to consider here, is that the some of the studies were done on people who had smoked heavily for a lifetime, or whose health was significantly impaired: damage such as this cannot logically be expected to answer to one single substance, no matter how beneficial. I am sure you remember the number of times I have stated that chronic disease does not respond to a Magic Bullet approach!

The third thing to take into account is the number of studies that have shown clear, incontrovertible benefits from natural beta carotene and other carotenoids, and that even the reports on this negative study conclude by saying that the protective effects of fruits and vegetables are not being questioned. The obvious conclusion here, is that a supplement which is closer to fresh food is more likely to to be effective than synthetic chemicals. Many people who for one reason or another do not eat enough in the way of fresh fruits and vegetables have been compensating by taking concentrated food supplements , and they should not be put off by this report, as long as the source is wisely chosen. As the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition put it in 1991, “the overwhelming evidence …….would indicate that carotenoids exert an important influence in modulating the actions of carcinogens.”

In fact, revisiting this study in 2004, these conclusions were reached:

A new analysis published in July takes another look at that same Finnish smokers’ study, but now takes into account their total antioxidant intake, and clears up that whole controversy. Their risk of getting lung cancer was closely associated with total antioxidants in the diet, with more antioxidants meaning less cancer.A composite antioxidant index was generated for each of the 27,000 men over 14 years. The calculated amounts of carotenoids, flavonoids, Vitamin E, selenium and Vitamin C were compared to actual lung cancer rates, with a clear result: a combination of antioxidants lowers lung cancer risk in male smokers. (Lynn: my emphasis)

Specifically, Lycopene (high in tomatoes) has been found to lower the risk of prostate cancer (Journal of the Nat. Cancer Institute 1994) and also cancers of the mouth, pharynx , stomach and colon. (International Journal of Cancer 1994) Lutein and Zeaxanthin have been shown to have protective effects against macular degeneration. (Journal of the American Medical Association 1994)

Alpha-carotene drastically reduced the number of tumors in an animal study of liver, lung and skin cancer, exceeding the cancer fighting ability of beta carotene (Cancer research 1992). High blood levels of carotenoids were found to be protective against heart attacks in a study of 1,899 men followed for 13 years. (Journal of the American Medical Association 1994).

What should you look for in an effective supplement? Look for a beta carotene from natural sources, or one that lists all the carotenoids, or a powder or pill that is actually made from foods, and which states the amount of the nutrients that you can expect to find. Use them to improve your diet, but at the same time remember – make that diet as good as can be! Nothing replaces the right foods.

Find the recommended supplements here

Berkeley Wellness looks at the claims –

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