Did your mother ever tell you to eat your carrots if you wanted to see better at night? If so, your mother knew what she was talking about! Carrots are rich in beta carotene, a substance that is partially responsible for improving night vision among other things. Technically speaking, beta carotene is not a vitamin. Beta carotene is part of the chemical family of carotenoids and it converts inside the body into vitamin A.
Beta carotene is a very safe and naturally occurring source of vitamin A, and you can find the richest sources of beta carotene in fruits and vegetables. Vegetables that are dark green, orange, red and yellow are rich in beta carotene, as well as orange and red fruits. The breakdown of beta carotene to vitamin A occurs in the liver, and although there is no real risk of overdosing on beta carotene, excess beta carotene is stored in the fat reserves in your body and may give your skin an orange or yellow tinge.
Beta carotene is a powerful antioxidant and it has been linked with reducing the risks of cancer, increasing the immune system function, and preventing heart disease. Because beta carotene is converted into vitamin A in the body, it is useful for increasing night vision and even curing night blindness, and curing photosensitivity. There have been some early studies that show that beta carotene may be linked to curing cystic fibrosis and arthritis.
Although it is possible to supplement with beta carotene, there is really no need to take an artificially manufactured supplement. If you eat a diet rich in fruits and vegetables you should receive more than enough beta carotene in your daily diet. If you do choose to supplement with a manufactured beta carotene supplement, be sure to use caution. The best way to include beta carotene in supplement form is as a multivitamin.
The synthetic form of beta carotene is not nearly as rich in antioxidant properties as the naturally occurring beta carotene. Most beta carotene that is found in multi-vitamins or supplements is synthetic. The main difference between natural and synthetic forms is that natural beta carotene is comprised of two molecules while synthetic only has one.
It is imperative that if you smoke, you do not supplement with artificially manufactured beta carotene! Beta carotene has been linked to lung cancer in smokers, and it should be avoided until further research has been done. Early studies show that beta carotene oxidizes in the lungs with the free radicals from the cigarette smoke, and the antioxidant capacity is actually all used up, causing more harm than good.
In conclusion, beta carotene acts as an excellent anti-oxidant, however it is most effective in its natural state. There is no major reason to supplement with beta carotene if you eat a diet that is rich in fruits and vegetables.