MONDAY, Nov. 22 (HealthDay News) -- Consuming high amounts of beta-carotene's less well-known antioxidant cousin, alpha-carotene, in fruits and vegetables can lower the risk of dying from all causes, including heart disease and cancer, new research suggests.
Both nutrients are called carotenoids -- named after carrots -- because of the red, yellow and orange coloring they lend to a range of produce. Once consumed, both alpha- and beta-carotene are converted by the body to vitamin A, although that process is believed to unfold more efficiently with beta-carotene than with alpha-carotene.
However, the new study suggests alpha-carotene may play the more crucial role in defending cells' DNA from attack. This might explain the nutrient's ability to limit the type of tissue damage that can trigger fatal illness, researchers say.
In the study, a team at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that over 14 years of follow-up, most people -- regardless of lifestyle habits, demographics or overall health risks -- had fewer life-limiting health troubles as their blood concentrations of alpha-carotene rose.
The effect was dramatic, with risks falling from 23 to 39 percent as an individual's alpha-carotene levels climbed.
"This study does continue to prove the point there's a lot of things in food -- mainly in fruits and vegetables that are orange or kind of red in color -- that are good for us," said registered dietitian Lona Sandon, American Dietetic Association spokeswoman and an assistant professor of clinical nutrition at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas. But Sandon stressed that, right now, the study only proves an association between alpha-carotene and longer life, and can't show cause-and-effect.
The findings are to be published in the upcoming March 28 print issue of the Archives of Internal Medicine, w
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