"This is very preliminary," she said. "There haven't been many clinical trials looking into this. And it's always tricky when you're singling out a single nutrient, because components in foods may work individually or synergistically. The question is: Is alpha-carotene acting in conjunction with something else? We don't really know," Sandon explained.
"The alpha-carotene itself is probably not the cause of longer life," she added. "But we can still say that if you're getting more of these kinds of phytonutrients found in foods, this may help you live longer and healthier."
The bottom line, according to Sandon: "I certainly think it would be wrong for people to take away from this that they should set out to specifically consume alpha-carotene. What people should take away from this is that they should go out and eat the foods that have alpha-carotene in them."
And what about nutritional supplements? Li's team pointed out antioxidant supplements currently on the market do not contain much, if any, alpha-carotene, and the study therefore only looked at the impact of consuming the compound via foods.
For more on alpha-carotene, visit the U.S. National Library of Medicine.
SOURCES: Lona Sandon, R.D., American Dietetic Association spokesperson, and assistant professor of clinical nutrition, University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas; Nov. 22, 2010, Archives of Internal Medicine, online
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