Beta-carotene, a fat-soluble, pigmented compound, is one of several types of carotenoids in fruits, vegetables and whole grains. Foods that contain beta-carotene include carrots, sweet potatoes, squash, peppers, apricots, spinach and green, leafy vegetables. Beta-carotene has antioxidant properties and, along with other carotenoids, provides about 50 percent of the vitamin A needed in a healthy diet.
The body converts beta-carotene and other carotenoids to vitamin A, an essential nutrient. Vitamin A plays an essential role in cell division, reproduction, bone growth, vision, skin health and immune system regulation. Sufficient vitamin A helps the body fight infections. Vitamin A deficiency can cause night blindness and a decreased ability to fight infections.
Reducing Sunburn Risk
Beta-carotene can reduce sun sensitivity and risk of sunburn in people with increased vulnerability to sunburns, including individuals with erythropoietic protoporphyria, an inherited blood disorder.
Reducing Disease Risk
Premenopausal women who consume fruits and vegetables rich in beta-carotene may have a reduced risk for breast cancer, according to MedlinePlus. Beta-carotene may be more effective at reducing breast cancer risk in high-risk women, such as women with a family history of breast cancer or women who consume large amounts of alcohol. Beta-carotene may also reduce the risk of ovarian cancer in postmenopausal women, and it may reduce the risk of pregnancy-related death, diarrhea and fever after delivery in malnourished women.
Supplementation with beta-carotene, along with vitamin C, vitamin E and zinc, may help treat advanced age-related macular degeneration, an eye disease. Beta-carotene may prevent exercise-induced asthma attacks, and it may prevent the worsening of existing osteoarthritis. It may also treat oral leukoplakia, a tongue disease.
Most people should get sufficient beta-carotene through food sources. Beta-carotene supplements may not be safe for everyone, and you should only take them for specific medical conditions and with appropriate supervision. High doses of beta-carotene supplements taken long term may not be safe.