You probably heard about beta-carotene. Or about lycopene. These are very beneficial ingredients found in fruits and vegetables.
Beta-carotene is part of many multivitamins, and both of these substances are used in dietary supplements. What is common between them and why are they needed?
Beta-carotene and lycopene belong to the same group of natural substances. They are called carotenoids, and they are all natural colorants (orange, yellow, and red). They give color to tomatoes, pumpkin, melon, citrus fruits and, of course, carrots. From the latter their name comes: “carota” in Latin means “carrot”. In it, they were first discovered.
Almost 800 carotenoids were found in nature, but the vast majority of them are represented by only six substances. They are well studied and proven to protect us from a host of diseases. Among them are heart and blood vessel diseases, eye diseases (impaired vision and blindness), many types of malignant tumors, hypertension, obesity, type 2 diabetes mellitus, metabolic syndrome, weakened immunity, age-related brain diseases (memory loss, impaired thinking), weakening hearing, sluggish inflammation throughout the body. In fact, these are the main diseases of modern society.
The beneficial effect of carotenoids is primarily due to their powerful antioxidant effect. They reduce oxidative stress by neutralizing free radicals. These aggressive molecules damage cell membranes and organelles. Because of this, the vessels become stiff and inelastic, and the skin is wrinkled (oxidative stress accelerates the aging of the body and helps the development of many diseases).
Still free radicals cause mutations in DNA. Our genes are made up of this substance, and our hereditary information is recorded in long chains of DNA. The occurrence of mutations leads to the development of cancer.
But the antioxidant effect is only one of the mechanisms of action of carotenoids. Some of them turn into vitamin A and thereby provide a lot of good for our body. Some carotenoids are structural elements of a number of organs and cells. They can also play a large role in metabolism. Let's take a closer look at them.
Beta Carotene – Pro-Vitamin
The most famous carotenoid is beta-carotene. It is often called the precursor of vitamin A (retinol). This is because in our body it can turn into this vitamin.
It is believed that out of 12 beta-carotene molecules, only one goes to the production of vitamin A. The remaining 11 molecules work for our benefit on their own. In particular, it was shown that lovers of foods rich in this substance were less likely to have lung cancer (see “This is Important”). An overdose of beta-carotene is practically safe, its main manifestation is yellowing of the skin, which is more like a tan than jaundice. But two other lesser-known carotenoids, alpha-carotene and gamma-cryptoxanthin, also possess the same effect of provitamins. They also turn into vitamin A.
LIKOPIN – TOMATO DYE
This second-known carotenoid gives the famous color to tomatoes. He has a very masculine reputation. Members of the stronger sex who eat tomatoes and products containing them at least 10 times a week are less likely to suffer from prostate cancer by 45%. Those who eat less, but also regularly, this tumor develops less often by 11-19% than those who do not like them.
Without a doubt, lycopene also protects against other malignant tumors. There is evidence that this red pigment inhibits the development of cancer of the oral cavity, pharynx, larynx and lungs. By the way, beta-cryptoxanthin was found to have similar effects in many respects.
It is important that not only fresh tomatoes are useful, but also everything that is made of them. Lycopene is quite resistant to temperature effects. Moreover, after this, tomatoes give even better lycopene, and it is more absorbed by our body. Therefore, this pigment is rich in canned tomatoes (especially in their own juice), tomato juice and pasta, as well as ketchup and other sauces with tomatoes.
NOT IN THE EYEBROW, AND IN THE EYE
Other major carotenoids are lutein and zeaxanthin. They are extremely important for vision and prevention of age-related macular degeneration (AMD). This disease is the main cause of blindness in old age. Studies have shown that yellow-green vegetables and fruits containing lutein and zeaxanthin can prevent the development of AMD and inhibit its progress if the disease has already begun.
The fact is that these carotenoids give color to the so-called yellow spot (macula). This is the smallest formation on the retina, in which all the rays passing through the pupil converge. With AMD, it is this macula that is affected. A thick layer of lutein and zeaxanthin filters the sunlight falling on the yellow spot, cutting off the excess of blue rays. They have the most aggressive effect. In addition, being powerful antioxidants, these pigments neutralize free radicals formed in the macula as a result of photochemical reactions under the influence of sunlight.
To protect the macula, you need to consume enough lutein and zeaxanthin in the food. It is believed that on the day we need to eat 4-6 mg of these pigments. But our normal diet contains less of them – only 1-3 mg.
* One serving is a capacity of 230-250 ml (bowl, plate, cup), which is filled with chopped vegetables and fruits.