Carotenoids: More Than Just Beta-carotene


by Richard A. Passwater, Ph.D.

Dr. James P. Clark is the Director of Technology at Henkel Corporation and Lance Schlipalius is the Technical Manager at Betatene Limited of Australia.

Dr. Clark received his Ph.D. degree from the University of Colorado in Physical Chemistry in 1967. He has spent his entire professional career investigating vitamin E and phytosterols for General Mills Chemicals and Henkel Corporation. He became interested in beta-carotene about three years ago.

Mr. Schlipalius received his Science degree from Melbourne University in 1968 where he majored in Microbiology and Nutrition. In 1973, he received his Food, Science and Technology degree from the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology.

It is interesting to see that the time has come when cereals and mass-market children's vitamins advertise that they contain beta-carotene. Although the health food industry introduced beta-carotene to the public many years ago, I can still remember asking the audience attending my lecture in 1983, "How many of you are familiar with beta-carotene?" In an audience of several hundred people, only four or five hands went up. That prompted me to write the booklet, "Beta-carotene" which was published in 1984.

Recently, the New York academy of Sciences conducted a conference entitled, "Carotenoids in Human Health," to review the progress of our rapidly expanding understanding of the roles of beta-carotene and other carotenoids in health. The major sponsor of the conference was provided by the Henkel Corporation. During the conference, I had the opportunity to chat with Dr. Clark and Lance Schlipalius.

Originally, we were interested in beta-carotene, just one of the more than 600 members of the carotenoid family, because we were interested in vitamin A. Then we became interested in beta-carotene because it has it's own actions in preventing cancer. Beta-carotene is a stronger antioxidant than vitamin A and it also can quench the radical producer, singlet oxygen, which vitamin A does not do.

We have been interested in beta-carotene because it:

  • protects against cancer
  • reverses pre-cancerous lesions
  • protects against heart disease by protecting LDL from oxidation and possibly reducing Lp(a) levels
  • lowers total cholesterol levels
  • protects against stroke
  • protects against cataracts
  • enhances the immune system
  • prevents certain photosensitivity disorders.
  • enhances gap junction communication between cells
  • improves antioxidant actions in tissues
  • quenches singlet oxygen
  • protective effects in sister chromatid exchanges
  • reduces stress reactions

Now we are interested in many members of the carotenoid family because they may have cancer preventing and additional properties.

For a more detailed discussion on this subject review Dr. Passwater's interview with Dr. Clark.

Reprinted with permission from Whole Foods Magazine