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The Health Benefits of Carrots
One of the health benefits of carrots is well known: the carrot is rich in beta-carotene, which the body stores and converts to vitamin A as it is needed.
Vitamin A deficiency leads to poor vision; thus, the age-old parental advice concerning the benefits of carrots to good vision can be scientifically supported.
The many components (sometimes referred to as flavonoids) that cause fruits and vegetables to have different colors are believed to be important to human health.
The compound that makes carrots and other vegetables orange is called "carotene", named aptly after the carrot. The overall importance of these individual compounds to human health is a matter of some debate. In other words, the health benefits of carrots may not be associated with one single compound, but with the numerous vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients and dietary fiber that it contains.
For many years scientists have isolated these individual components and studied their effects on human diseases in laboratory test tubes and animal models, as well as in clinical trials, which involve humans. The hope was that the benefits of carrots and other fruits and vegetables could be obtained by taking a "pill".
Researchers have now shown that in many instances synthetic and isolated compounds can have toxic effects on the human body. This seems contradictory to the known health benefits of carrots and other fruits and vegetables, but it is likely that all of the different compounds found in a healthy diet work together.
In addition, dietary sources of these isolated compounds do not exhibit any toxic effects in the test-tube or in human beings.
As an example, some of the first supplements that came on the market contained a synthesized version of vitamin A derived from animal sources. Fish liver oils contain this form of vitamin A. It has been shown that too much vitamin A can be harmful or fatal.
Thus, people taking large doses of pre-formed vitamin A, hoping to improve night vision or to obtain other benefits, have been the victims of what is called "vitamin A toxicity". This form of vitamin A is also suspected to contribute to osteoporosis, even at non-toxic levels.
Beta-carotene, on the other hand, is stored in the body and converted to vitamin A on an "as-needed" basis, so there is no risk of vitamin A toxicity to counter the health benefits of carrots in the diet. Excessive consumption of beta-carotene or carrots can lead to a condition called "carotenosis", characterized by an orange tint to the skin. Otherwise, the condition is not dangerous.
Beta-carotene is an antioxidant, which means that it counters the damaging effects of oxygen on the cells of the body. Various antioxidants have been evaluated as cancer preventatives, since damage to the cells by oxygen and other chemicals can lead to the formation of cancerous tumors.
Many of the health benefits of carrots and other vegetables in the diet are related to the possibility of a reduced risk of cancer. The American Cancer Society recommends a diet rich in a variety of fruits, vegetables and whole grains to obtain the most benefits.
Researchers aware of a relationship between carotene-rich fruits and vegetables and a lower incidence of lung cancer have attempted to reproduce the effect of using beta-carotene, vitamin A, vitamin E and other supplements.
The conclusion of these studies was surprising. Rather than reducing the growth of the cancer, these isolated compounds appeared to increase both the rate of growth and increase the risk of mortality from the lung cancers.
The American Cancer Society has called for a warning to be placed on supplements containing these isolated compounds.
A better option for people who want the health benefits of carrots in capsule form is found in whole food supplements.
These whole food supplements -- Juice Plus+® being one of the most popular -- are manufactured by dehydrating and concentrating the whole food, whether it is fruits, vegetables or whole grains.
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