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Beta-carotene -- Or Pro-vitamin A

It mops up free radicals that could cause some forms of cancer, protects our skins against ultraviolet (UV) light damage and strengthens our immune systems.

It's converted into Vitamin A in our livers and intestinal walls.

It's a terpenoid, a red-orange pigment commonly found in fruits and vegetables with that coloring, and in dark green leafy vegetables. Sources include carrots, mangoes, papaya, yams, cantaloupe, yellow squash, apricots, spinach, spirulina, wheat grass, alfalfa, pumpkins, collard greens and barley grass.

As a natural source of Vitamin A, beta-carotene is important for all the reasons that Vitamin A is -- which includes strengthening the immune system, producing human growth hormone and thyroid hormone, and enabling our cells to reproduce properly.

According to an article published in 2001 in the International Journal of Epidemiology, people who eat two and a half servings per day of foods rich in beta-carotene have significantly less chance of developing coronary heart disease.

Experts advise taking supplements of only natural beta-carotene. Although scientists want to claim there's no difference, this is not necessarily true. This is especially true of smokers, because research has shown that high levels of suppplmentation with synthetic beta-carotene increased their risk of lung cancer. And some claim that synthetic beta-carotene lacks the antioxidant power of its natural form.

It's often true that when you read in the news about a study showing that a vitamin was proven dangerous, if you investigate you'll find that the study used a synthetic, artificial form of the vitamin. I don't know whether the scientists do this deliberately because the pharmaceutical companies are paying them to discredit vitamins (as some people claim), or whether they use synthetics because in their arrogance they really believe the synthetic form truly duplicates the natural version.

However, we don't eat foods full of synthetic vitamins. We eat them in their natural form. And high quality supplements (not the cheapo junk you find in your local Walgreens) contains vitamins only in their natural forms.

The lesson is clear. Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables rich in beta-carotene. Some beta-carotene in its natural form in a multi-vitamin supplement can help improve your health. Avoid synthetic beta-carotene even if you're not a smoker. And don't take extreme amounts of any supplement.

By: Richard Stooker

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