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The vast majority of multivitamin and nutritional supplements are filled with synthetic or isolated fragments of vitamins, and this is certainly true for beta carotene, the precursor for vitamin A. What most people don’t know are the dangers that come with ingesting synthetic beta carotene.
Natural beta carotene is one of the many brightly colored pigments found in fresh fruits and vegetables. This carotenoid serves as a precursor to vitamin A, a vitamin essential for vision, skin health, immune function, and gene transcription (the first step in gene expression).
Because beta carotene converts to vitamin A in the body as needed, it offers all the health benefits of vitamin A without any of the toxicity of vitamin A sourced from high-dose supplements or cod liver oil.
Studies on dietary intake of beta carotene from fruits and vegetables show natural beta carotene offers real long-term protective health benefits.
Lower risk of Alzheimer’s
In the Rotterdam study (JAMA 2002) the dietary intake of beta carotene was associated with a lower risk of Alzheimer’s disease among smokers.
Lower risk of breast cancer
An extensive analysis in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute (2012) showed high dietary intake of carotenoids—including beta carotene—was strongly associated with a lower risk of breast cancer, particularly estrogen receptor negative (ER-) breast cancer.
These health benefits can be attributed to the use of whole foods, where beta carotene is one of many carotenoids in the plant—with all of its necessary co-factors—delivering complete nutrition.
The Finnish Study, a double-blind, placebo-controlled study published in the New England Journal of Medicine gave over 29,000 male smokers beta carotene and vitamin E, to evaluate the cancer-protective benefits of the vitamins.
Surprisingly, the study authors discovered a HIGHER incidence of lung cancer (18%) in those receiving supplementation of beta carotene. And total mortality was 8% higher among those who received beta carotene than those who did not.
Buried deep within the study methods is the admission that, “The study agents were formulated as synthetic dl-alpha-tocopheryl acetate (50 percent powder) and synthetic beta carotene (10 percent water-soluble beadlets); all formulations were colored with quinoline yellow.”
Is it any wonder that people taking synthetic beta carotene have negative health outcomes when the ingredients used to make it include petrochemicals and harsh solvents?
When you imagine beta carotene your mind may wander to the image of vegetables such as carrots, sweet potatoes, squash, spinach, broccoli, kale, pumpkin, parsley and peas. But that is not where synthetic beta carotene comes from.
Instead the reality is synthetic beta carotene is manufactured from benzene extracted from acetylene gas (really, we’re not making this up). Benzene is a natural constituent of crude oil, and is one of the most basic petrochemicals. Not only do these substances have no nutritional value, benzene is considered to be a carcinogen or cancer-causing substance.
Unfortunately, most supplements don’t tell you if the vitamins listed are synthetic because they are not legally required to do so. Labeling laws allow companies to call a chemical isolate by the same name as the complete nutrition found in whole food, even though they function entirely differently in the body.
But there are ways you can tell. For vitamin A, if your supplement label says Vitamin A Palmitate, Retinyl Acetate or Vitamin A Acetate it is ALL synthetic. For beta carotene, unless the whole food source is listed, it is SYNTHETIC.
Companies use synthetic vitamins because the ingredients (petrochemicals) are cheap, and because they think they can get away with making consumers think synthetic and food-based supplements are the same. They are not.
As numerous studies show, natural beta carotene is associated with a LOWER risk of cancer while synthetic beta carotene is associated with a HIGHER risk of cancer. Your body is not fooled.