Letter to the editor

An update on the potential health benefits of carotenes

Jae Kwang Kim1[*]

1Division of Life Sciences, College of Life Sciences and Bioengineering, Incheon National University, Incheon, 406-772, Korea

EXCLI J 2016;15:Doc1


Dear Editor,

Carotenes, which are yellow-orange pigments, are a class of related organic compounds classified as hydrocarbons, more specifically as terpenoids, with the molecular formula C40H56. Plants, fungi, and photosynthetic bacteria synthesize carotenes, while animals must obtain them as a dietary nutrient (Vrolijk et al., 2015[30]). Plants are capable of synthesizing several isomers of carotene. Alpha-carotene (α-carotene) and beta-carotene (β-carotene) are the two primary isomers found in plants; other carotene isomers found in plants are gamma-, delta-, epsilon-, and zeta-carotene (γ, δ, ε, and ζ-carotene) (Hammond and Renzi, 2013[9]). β-Carotene is the most common form of carotene in plants and can be found in yellow, orange, and green leafy vegetables and fruits. It is an important dietary resource and a precursor of vitamin A in humans (Haskell, 2012[12]; Tang, 2012[29]; Sommer and Vyas, 2012[28]).

Carotenes show a range of biological activity and health benefits for animals, making it an interesting material for the pharmaceutical, food, and cosmetics industries. We have reviewed the most recent studies on carotenes and its biological and pharmacological activities (Table 1(Tab. 1)) (References in Table 1: Li et al., 2015[17]; Freitas et al., 2015[7]; Sluijs et al., 2015[27]; Hashim et al., 2015[11]; Das et al., 2015[5]; Ben Amara et al., 2015[2]; Schnorr et al., 2014[25]; Fiorelli et al., 2014[6]; Lai et al., 2014[15]; Kasperczyk et al., 2014[13]; Lim et al., 2014[18]; Wang et al., 2014[31]; Kim et al., 2014[14]; Berti et al., 2014[3]; Gloria et al., 2014[8]; Orazizadeh et al., 2014[22]; Abdul-Hamid and Moustafa, 2014[1]; Nishida et al., 2014[21]; Harari et al., 2013[10]; Bjelakovic et al., 2013[4]; Lee et al., 2013[16]; Lin et al., 2013[20]; Rotenstreich et al., 2013[24]; Silva et al., 2013[26]; Lim et al., 2013[19]; Peng et al., 2013[23]).


This work was supported by the Incheon National University Research Grant in 2013.



1. Abdul-Hamid M, Moustafa N. Amelioration of alloxan-induced diabetic keratopathy by beta-carotene. Exp Toxicol Pathol. 2014;66:49-59.
2. Ben Amara N, Tourniaire F, Maraninchi M, Attia N, Amiot-Carlin MJ, Raccah D, et al. Independent positive association of plasma β-carotene concentrations with adiponectin among non-diabetic obese subjects. Eur J Nutr. 2015;54:447-54.
3. Berti AP, Düsman E, Mariucci RG, Lopes NB, Vicentini VE. Antimutagenic and radioprotective activities of beta-carotene against the biological effects of iodine-131 radiopharmaceutical in Wistar rats. Genet Mol Res. 2014;13:2248-58.
4. Bjelakovic G, Nikolova D, Gluud C. Meta-regression analyses, meta-analyses, and trial sequential analyses of the effects of supplementation with beta-carotene, vitamin A, and vitamin E singly or in different combinations on all-cause mortality: do we have evidence for lack of harm? PLoS One. 2013;8:e74558.
5. Das R, Das A, Roy A, Kumari U, Bhattacharya S, Haldar PK. β-carotene ameliorates arsenic-induced toxicity in albino mice. Biol Trace Elem Res. 2015;164:226-33.
6. Fiorelli SK, Vianna LM, Oliveira CA, Fiorelli RK, Barros BC, Almeida CR. The effects of supraphysiological supplementation of β-carotene in spontaneously hypertensive rats (SHR and SHR-sp). Rev Col Bras Cir. 2014;41:351-5.
7. Freitas JV, Praça FS, Bentley MV, Gaspar LR. Trans-resveratrol and beta-carotene from sunscreens penetrate viable skin layers and reduce cutaneous penetration of UV-filters. Int J Pharm. 2015;484:131-7.
8. Gloria NF, Soares N, Brand C, Oliveira FL, Borojevic R, Teodoro AJ. Lycopene and beta-carotene induce cell-cycle arrest and apoptosis in human breast cancer cell lines. Anticancer Res. 2014;34:1377-86.
9. Hammond BR Jr, Renzi LM. Carotenoids. Adv Nutr. 2013;4:474-6.
10. Harari A, Abecassis R, Relevi N, Levi Z, Ben-Amotz A, Kamari Y, et al. Prevention of atherosclerosis progression by 9-cis-β-carotene rich alga Dunaliella in apoE-deficient mice. Biomed Res Int. 2013;2013:169517.
11. Hashim D, Gaughan D, Boffetta P, Lucchini RG. Baseline serum β-carotene concentration and mortality among long-term asbestos-exposed insulators. Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev. 2015;24:555-60.
12. Haskell MJ. The challenge to reach nutritional adequacy for vitamin A: β-carotene bioavailability and conversion--evidence in humans. Am J Clin Nutr. 2012;96:1193S-203S.
13. Kasperczyk S, Dobrakowski M, Kasperczyk J, Romuk E, Prokopowicz A, Birkner E. The influence of beta-carotene on homocysteine level and oxidative stress in lead-exposed workers. Med Pr. 2014;65:309-16.
14. Kim YS, Lee HA, Lim JY, Kim Y, Jung CH, Yoo SH, et al. β-Carotene inhibits neuroblastoma cell invasion and metastasis in vitro and in vivo by decreasing level of hypoxia-inducible factor-1α. J Nutr Biochem. 2014;25:655-64.
15. Lai GY, Weinstein SJ, Taylor PR, McGlynn KA, Virtamo J, Gail MH, et al. Effects of α-tocopherol and β-carotene supplementation on liver cancer incidence and chronic liver disease mortality in the ATBC study. Br J Cancer. 2014;111:2220-3.
16. Lee HA, Park S, Kim Y. Effect of β-carotene on cancer cell stemness and differentiation in SK-N-BE(2)C neuroblastoma cells. Oncol Rep. 2013;30:1869-77.
17. Li Y, Liu S, Man Y, Li N, Zhou YU. Effects of vitamins E and C combined with β-carotene on cognitive function in the elderly. Exp Ther Med. 2015;9:1489-93.
18. Lim JY, Kim YS, Kim KM, Min SJ, Kim Y. Β-carotene inhibits neuroblastoma tumorigenesis by regulating cell differentiation and cancer cell stemness. Biochem Biophys Res Commun. 2014;450:1475-80.
19. Lim JY, Kim YS, Kim Y. β-carotene regulates the murine liver microenvironment of a metastatic neuroblastoma. J Cancer Prev. 2013;18:337-45.
20. Lin C, Yon JM, Jung AY, Lee JG, Jung KY, Lee BJ, et al. Antiteratogenic effects of β-carotene in cultured mouse embryos exposed to nicotine. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2013;2013:575287.
21. Nishida K, Sugimoto M, Ikeda S, Kume S. Effects of supplemental β-carotene on mucosal IgA induction in the jejunum and ileum of mice after weaning. Br J Nutr. 2014;111:247-53.
22. Orazizadeh M, Khorsandi L, Absalan F, Hashemitabar M, Daneshi E. Effect of beta-carotene on titanium oxide nanoparticles-induced testicular toxicity in mice. J Assist Reprod Genet. 2014;31:561-8.
23. Peng HC, Chen YL, Yang SY, Ho PY, Yang SS, Hu JT, et al. The antiapoptotic effects of different doses of β-carotene in chronic ethanol-fed rats. Hepatobiliary Surg Nutr. 2013;2:132-41.
24. Rotenstreich Y, Belkin M, Sadetzki S, Chetrit A, Ferman-Attar G, Sher I, et al. Treatment with 9-cis β-carotene-rich powder in patients with retinitispigmentosa: a randomized crossover trial. JAMA Ophthalmol. 2013;131:985-92.
25. Schnorr CE, Morrone Mda S, Simões-Pires A, Bittencourt Lda S, Zeidán-Chuliá F, Moreira JC. Supplementation of adult rats with moderate amounts of β-carotene modulates the redox status in plasma without exerting pro-oxidant effects in the brain: a safer alternative to food fortification with vitamin A? Nutrients. 2014;6:5572-82.
26. Silva LS, de Miranda AM, de Brito Magalhães CL, Dos Santos RC, Pedrosa ML, Silva ME. Diet supplementation with beta-carotene improves the serum lipid profile in rats fed a cholesterol-enriched diet. J Physiol Biochem. 2013;69:811-20.
27. Sluijs I, Cadier E, Beulens JW, van der A DL, Spijkerman AM, vander Schouw YT. Dietary intake of carotenoids and risk of type 2 diabetes. Nutr Metab Cardiovasc Dis. 2015;25:376-81.
28. Sommer A, Vyas KS. A global clinical view on vitamin A and carotenoids. Am J Clin Nutr. 2012;96:1204S-6S.
29. Tang G. Techniques for measuring vitamin A activity from β-carotene. Am J Clin Nutr. 2012;96:1185S-8S.
30. Vrolijk MF, Opperhuizen A, Jansen EH, Godschalk RW, Van Schooten FJ, Bast A, et al. The shifting perception on antioxidants: The case of vitamin E and β-carotene. Redox Biol. 2015;4C:272-8.
31. Wang HJ, Liang R, Fu LM, Han RM, Zhang JP, Skibsted LH. Nutritional aspects of β-carotene and resveratrol antioxidant synergism in giant unilamellar vesicles. Food Funct. 2014;5:1573-8.

Table 1: Recent studies on carotene and its biological and pharmacological activities

[*] Corresponding Author:

Jae Kwang Kim, Division of Life Sciences, College of Life Sciences and Bioengineering, Incheon National University, Incheon, 406-772, Korea; Phone: +82-32-835-8241, Fax: +82-32-835-0763, eMail: kjkpj@inu.ac.kr