The above link is to a rather good study of its type, showing a correlation between serum levels of alpha-carotene and decreased mortality from cancer and heart disease. What this means is not clear, but it will undoubtedly lead to companies selling alpha-carotene supplements (no one's ever lost money selling stuff to people to swallow) and that means we're about a year away from seeing the first cases of toxicity and overdose. It's a yellow-orange compound that gets stored in lipid, so the orange people are coming!
Remember lycopene? Lutein? Resveratrol? Curcumin? All are good for you in small amounts; alpha-carotene's just one more anti-oxidant in the same category.
Let's review lycopene. It was found that people who ate a lot of tomatoes had lowered rates of some diseases. Tomatoes have high amounts of lycopene (it makes them red) and lycopene is an antioxidant and people made the leap to the idea that ingesting lycopene was protective against disease. Studies of people taking lycopene supplements showed no such protective effect. Tomatoes also have alpha-carotene, so now people will assume that that's the magic compound.
Now a word about anti-oxidant variety. Anti-oxidants can be thought of as capturing "rogue electrons." The colored compounds of plants are designed to capture light energy of different wavelengths, which give them their differing colors. Because one wants to capture the rogue electrons of a variety of different energy levels, one should have a variety of these anti-oxidant pigments.
Alpha-carotene is found in the orange plants that have beta-carotene, such as carrot, mango, pumpkin, sweet potato and apricots. It's also found in dark green leafy plants with cryptoxanthins and lutein, such as spinach and romaine lettuce and in cruciferous vegetables like broccoli. It's found in red plants like tomatoes. If you're eating a wide variety of colorful fruits and vegetables, you're ingesting alpha-carotene, but it's not necessarily the alpha-carotene that's good for you.
Alpha-carotene is fat soluble and what was measured was serum levels, so the less body fat one has, the more likely the alpha-carotene is to be in the blood. This could also be the reason for the correlation.
Bottom line: have a slice of pumpkin pie for Thanksgiving.
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