It may seem to be incredible to many that though over 600 different carotenoid pigments have been recognized in our foods, it seems that the blood or tissues in our body extensively utilize only six among these - that is one hundredth of the carotenoids identified - so far. In addition to beta-carotene - the most popular or best known among the six carotenoids - the others comprise lycopene, zeaxanthin, lutein, alphacarotene and cryptoxanthin.

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Simply speaking, carotenoids are an assortment of red and yellow compounds soluble in fats. They are responsible for the pigment in various plants and plant parts like the flowers, citrus fruits, tomatoes, and carrots. Carotenoids are also found in the animal kingdom such as in goldfish, salmon and flamingos. Consuming carotenoids are crucial for humans for their good health as some of them not only convert into vitamin A, but also because of their antioxidant properties and consequences. The antioxidant property of carotenoids helps to fight diverse problems in the body. While they are effectual in combating cancer and macular degeneration, carotenoids are also beneficial in averting heart ailments as they restrain low-density lipoprotein or LDL cholesterol from attaching themselves with the walls of arteries and leading to diseases. It may be mentioned that LDL cholesterol is considered to be 'bad' cholesterol and is responsible for many heart diseases.

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Significantly, though different carotenoids are present in various fruits and vegetables, most of the foods where they are found in high density or concentration are not a part of our daily dietary list. There are only a few fruits and vegetables that we use daily. While alpha-carotene, the best known of all caretonoids, is present in carrots and pumpkin, lycopene is found in abundance in red colored fruits such as watermelon, red grapefruit, tomatoes, and guava. On the other hand, lutein and zeaxanthin are found aplenty in dark green vegetables, in pumpkins and red peppers. Cryptoxanthin is found in mangoes, oranges and peaches. Dietary supplements containing a blend of the six primary carotenoids are very useful in preventing several diseases.

As mentioned earlier, the basic advantages or benefits of carotenoids are found in their antioxidant possible properties. It may be mentioned here that the antioxidants are amalgams that safeguard the cells from harm caused by unsteady molecules known as free radicals. Significantly, although all the carotenoids are similar in nature, each of them acts only on a particular type of body tissue. Moreover, while cryptoxanthin and alphacarotene can be transformed into vitamin A in the body, they cannot do the same like beta-carotene.

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Various researches have shown that the carotenoids have numerous benefits. While they have the capability to protect us from specific types of cancer by restricting the anomalous cell growth, they also help us to combat against different types of heart diseases. In addition, certain carotenoids help us to improve vision and also alleviate menstrual disorders.

For instance, lycopene seems to restrain or avert prostate cancer formation in the body. According to a group of researchers at the Harvard University, people who ate substantial tomato-based foods had at least 45 per cent less chances of suffering from prostate cancer. The research findings further states that any individual who consumed 10 or more dishes of tomato-based preparations every week were likely to be benefited. It may be mentioned here that tomatoes form the riches dietary basis of lycopene and must be consumed by every individual if they desire to be free from different forms of cancer. In fact, lycopene is also beneficial in averting cancer of the stomach and the digestive tract. On the other hand, various studies conducted at different times have proved that ingestion of large doses of alpha-carotene, lutein and zeaxanthin reduces the danger of lung cancer, while alpha-carotene and crytoxanthin helps in diminishing the peril of cervical cancer.

As mentioned earlier, carotenoids also help in combating different heart ailments. A medical survey conducted among 1,300 adults, rather elderly persons, has shown that people who ate the largest amount of carotenoids rich food stuff were fortunate enough to face half the chances of developing heart diseases and at least 75 per cent of them were safe from heart attacks than those who did not consume foods containing carotenoids. What is significant is that this was correct even after taking into consideration other heart disease factors like smoking and high cholesterol. According to scientists, all kinds of carotenoids, especially the alpha-carotene and lycopene, help in restricting the formation of the low-density lipoprotein or LDL cholesterol. LDL cholesterol is considered to be 'bad' as it can result to heart attacks as well as many other cardio-vascular problems.

Here is another benefit of the carotenoids. Careotenoids such as zeaxanthin and lutein helps in promoting clearer visualization by soaking up the harmful ultra-violet rays emitted by the sun and also by counteracting the free radicals in the retina - the light-sensitive zone inside the eye ball. This action of lutein and zeaxanthin is likely to aid in lessening the peril of macular degeneration. It may be noted here that macular degeneration is an age related vision ailment that may even lead to blindness among the older adults. There are other carotenoids that may help in averting damage to the eye lens and also lessen the peril of suffering from cataracts.

Primary researches have also established a relation between intake of low levels of carotenoids and menstrual disorders among women. On the other hand, recent studies have shown that high intake of carotenoids by cancer patients may improve the diagnosis in the initial stages. Hence, it is advisable that you intake a substantial amount of carotenoids, but certainly after consulting your physician.

Usual dosage

Even if one does not consume an assortment of food stuff rich in carotenoids, it is essential that they intake supplements comprising a blend of the six main carotenoids - alpha-carotene, beta-carotene, lycopene, lutein, zeaxanthin and cryptoxanthin - that provides the body with a minimum of 25,000 IU vitamin A actions daily. While it is advisable to ingest moderate doses of carotenoids, higher dosages may be recommended for people suffering from definite ailments.

While ingesting carotenoid dietary supplements, it is always better to take them along with food that is moderately rich in fat content. This is important as it helps the body to soak up the carotenoids faster and more effectually. There are some experts who are of the opinion that the carotenoids will work better if one plans to divide his intake of the nutrients into two halves and consume them in equal halves twice daily. However, in such situations it is essential that people intake their carotenoid supplements at regular intervals twice a day.

Side effects and cautions

Ingestion of big dosages of carotenoids either with food or dietary supplements is capable of turning the texture of your skin orange - particularly the palms of the hands and the sole of the feet. However, this change or outcome is temporary and harmless and will erase once you lessen the dosage of carotenoids. Normally, carotenoids do not have any known side effects, but intake of large doses of any particular carotenoid may obstruct the functioning of other carotenoids. Hence, it is advisable to consult qualified medical practitioners before using any carotenoid.


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