Plants such as fruits and vegetables are an amazing organism. They naturally synthesize vitamins and certain nutrients or phytonutrients that human often doesn’t. We obtain these health-promoting vitamins and phytonutrients by taking these fruits and vegetables as part of our daily diet. Lack of intake of these fruits and vegetables would cause health issues due to deficiency of certain vitamins and phytonutrients.  A major phytonutrient from these plants is the carotenoids.


    Beta-carotene as provitamin A carotene is widely recognized and used in the supplement industry mainly for Vitamin A claim and to a certain extent for its anti-cancer and antioxidant potency. However, the beta-carotene market was thrown into a tailspin by the publication of the CARET, HS and ATBC studies in the New England Journal of Medicine in mid 1990s. These were some of the largest intervention studies on β-carotene supplementation to basically confirm its beneficial health benefits. Unfortunately, the results from these studies were largely contradictory to the anti-cancer properties hypothesized for beta-carotene.  The CARET study was prematurely terminated when the increase in the incidence and mortality from lung cancer became obvious in beta-carotene supplemented group (ref. 2). The earlier ATBC study also reported similar results, ie: increase in incidences of lung cancer with beta-carotene consumption, especially among smokers (ref. 3). In comparison, the PHS study found no beneficial effects (ref. 4). It is worthwhile to note that these three studies were carried out with synthetic beta-carotene, with only a single form of carotene (ie: beta-carotene) and in the trans form.  

    The scare brought about by these studies – the ineffectiveness of synthetic beta-carotene or a single form of beta-carotene, is real so much so that the European Commission issued a report to limit the intake of beta-carotene.  

    As a result of these publications and backlash from the consumers / media alike, the industry, instead of beta-carotene alone, subsequently pivoted to promoting a mixed carotenoids complex, as what is naturally found in plants, vegetables and fruits. Basically, one needs to take the whole bouquet of carotenoids – alpha-carotene, beta-carotene, lycopene, lutein, zeaxanthin, astaxanthin, etc – as a true mixed carotenoids complex.  


    Carrot is one of the best sources of natural carotenoids (ref. 5), as it is a common vegetable in the western diet. Another popular plant source of carotenoids is red palm oil/ palm fruits where it is the only oil in nature that provides a bouquet of antioxidants and phytonutrients such as tocotrienols-tocopherol (vitamin E), mixed-carotenes with high level of alpha-carotene (pro-vitamin A carotenoids), plant squalene, phytosterol complex and Co-enzyme Q10. These are the jewels of red palm oil. No other vegetable oil has such unique natural combination of phytonutrients. In fact, red palm oil is the richest source of natural carotenoids (ref. 6). Its carotene (retinol equivalent or vitamin A content of foods) is 10x more than that of carrots (ref. 7).  

    Interestingly, in nature (fruits and vegetables), natural beta-carotene often coexists with alpha-carotene and other carotenoids. Carrots and palm fruits synthetize both beta-carotene and alpha-carotene as their main carotenoids. They both share a similar carotenoid profile – ~33% of alpha-carotene and ~66% of beta-carotene, in the forms of cis and trans isomers.  

    Beta-carotene can also be synthesized chemically from petrochemicals, and in fungus and algae. The beta-carotene content in these sources is approximately 95% – 100% of the total carotenoids. Hence, these sources are not a true mixed carotene complex. In addition, synthetic and fungus-derived beta-carotene are all in trans-form.  

    In comparison, plant derived carotenoids such as from palm fruits or carrots are true mixed carotene complexes where they have significant level of alpha-carotene (~30% to 35%) and beta-carotene (~ 60 – 66%) in the cis and trans isomers form as well as other carotenoids such as gamma-carotene, lycopene, etc.   

    Other good examples are lutein from marigold and lycopene from tomatoes. These carotenoids do not exist alone in nature. Lutein or lutein esters extracted from marigolds flowers (Tagetes erecta) exist simultaneously with zeaxanthin in the ratio of ~83% and ~17% respectively. As for the tomatoes, the lycopene extract consists of lycopene, phytoene and phytofluene.  

    As such, almost all plant-derived carotenoids occur naturally as a mixture or complex of carotenoids. 


    The truth is that carotenoids are not all created equal. The idea that one single form of carotene – beta-carotene or even the recent popular astaxanthin out of 600 carotenoids in nature is the “magic bullet” and assuming that the others are worthless, is going against nature and denies the very fact that each carotenoids has its own purpose, unique biological and physiological health benefits.  

    While the conversion efficacy of alpha-carotene to vitamin A (Vitamin A activity) is only half of that of beta-carotene, studies in Japan demonstrated that biological- or physiological activities-wise, alpha-carotene was found to be more effective than β- carotene in inhibiting liver and lung carcinogenesis (ref. 8) as well as chemically-induced skin tumor progression (ref. 9). The late and renown Prof.  Lester Packer, from the University California Berkeley shows that alpha-carotene is a more potent antioxidant than beta-carotene (ref. 10). Researchers from University of Liverpool, UK also reported a similar finding that alpha-carotene is a better antioxidant than beta-carotene in phosphatidyl choline vesicles, and therefore be useful in limiting free radical mediated peroxidative damage against membrane phospholipids in vivo (ref. 11). 


    Similarly, while lutein and zeaxanthin do not have any vitamin A activity at all, they are the main carotenoids (besides beta-carotene and alpha-carotene) found in human retina. These are known to be the most potent carotenoids in reducing the risk of light-induced oxidative damage that could lead to macular degeneration. Another example is with lycopene – while it has no vitamin A activity, biologically and physiologically, it is the most potent carotene in reducing the risk of prostate cancer.  

    Time and time again, at least for the past 20 years, the body of scientific evidence, points to the fact that taking a multitude of carotenoids (a true mixed carotene complex) is the best way for supplementation when it comes to carotene. Undeniably, mimicking nature is the way to go.


    Published in 2010’s Archives of Internal Medicine, researchers from Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, (CDC, US), assessed the direct relationship between blood alpha-carotene levels and risk of death from all causes, cardiovascular disease (CVD), cancer and all other causes among 15,318 adults age 20 and older who participated in the Third National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey Follow-up Study (NHANES III). The mean duration of the study lasted 13.9 years. Based on this ~14 year study, the researchers concluded that high blood levels of the alpha-carotene may reduce the risk of dying from cardiovascular disease (CVD), cancer, and all other causes by up to 39 percent (ref. 12). This can only be meaningfully achieved via palm mixed carotene complex (CaroGaiaTM natural palm mixed carotene). 

    Another large epidemiological study related to the association between leukocyte telomere length and serum carotenoid in US adults published in 2016 in European Journal of Nutrition. Telomeres are specialized structures at the end of the chromosomes that are thought of as protective caps for human genetic data during cell division. The length of the telomere shortens each time after cell division and the shortening process is associated with accelerated ageing – a biomarker of ageing. 3660 participants aged 20-year-old and above US adults were recruited in the 1999-2002 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES). The concentration of carotenoids (alpha- carotene, beta-carotene (trans + cis), beta-cryptoxanthin, combined lutein/zeaxanthin and trans-lycopene) were measured by high-performance liquid chromatography. The study found that blood alpha-carotene, beta-carotene (trans + cis) and beta-cryptoxanthin were significantly associated with longer telomeres. Hence, indicating high intake of carotenoid-rich food with multi carotenoid composition, may play a role in protecting telomeres and regulating telomere length (ref. 13). 


    Carotenoids are vital colorful pigments (bright yellow, orange and red colors) synthesized by plants, fruits and vegetables. They play important roles in photosynthesis and photoprotection. Carotenoids are categorized into 2 main groups – a) carotene and b) xanthophyll (ref. 1). Carotene is a hydrocarbon that does not contain an oxygen atom in its structure while xanthophyll is a hydrocarbon that contains an oxygen atom in its structure.  

    Among the 600 plant carotenoids, beta-carotene is the most abundant in nature and foods, making it the most popular carotenoids. It has the highest provitamin A activity. It’s also the most widely studied of the carotenoids. It’s the most common pigment used as coloring agent in food and drink. While beta-carotene has the highest pro-vitamin A activity, there are many other natural carotenoids in nature that have been shown to have a more potent biological activities such as antioxidant potency, protection against skin ageing, etc). As such, it is important and imperative that we should not neglect such other carotenoids naturally produced in fruits such as carrots.   



    WH LEONG         BRYAN SEE

    PhytoGaia Sdn. Bhd. | Malaysia


    Clinical study reported that consumption of dietary carotenoids from fruits and vegetables for 4 weeks leads to accumulations in human skin, altering skin yellowness. Skin yellowness was correlated with alpha-carotene and beta-carotene (ref. 14), where companies have used these mixed carotenoids in skin tanning products 

    A randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study, published in the journal of Photodermatology, Photoimmunology & Photomedicine, has shown that daily supplementation with mixed-carotenoids (4.25 mg β-carotene and 1.10 mg α-carotene, 1.12 mg lutein, 0.053 mg zeaxanthin from palm fruits and marigold extracts), per softgel, three times a day with meal for 12 weeks protects human skin against both UVB-induced erythema and UVA-induced pigmentation (ref. 15).  This is actually the first study that demonstrated the efficacy of wholesome natural multi carotenoids complex against both UVA and UVB radiation in 60 healthy subjects.  


    Both alpha-carotene and beta-carotene are known as provitamin A carotenoids and they are essential micronutrients in maintaining healthy night vision.   


    A large-scale cohort study (more than 100,000 subjects) published in JAMA Ophthalmology reported that increasing dietary consumption of a wide variety of fruits and vegetables rich in carotenoids (lutein, zeaxanthin, alpha-carotene and beta-carotene as well as β-cryptoxanthin) may reduce the incidence of advanced age-related macular degeneration (AMD) (ref. 16). It shows that the predicted plasma carotenoid scores for lutein and zeaxanthin demonstrated about 40% risk reduction, while that for α-carotene and β-carotene demonstrated 25% to 35% lower risks of developing advanced AMD.  Therefore, a long-term dietary intake of natural multi carotenoids (α-carotene, β-carotene, lutein and zeaxanthin) could potentially protect macula from light-induced oxidative damage.  

    Researchers from Beijing Tongren Hospital and Sun Yat-sen University, Guangzhou conducted a joint research study to look at the link between serum carotenoid levels and risk for diabetes and diabetic retinopathy (DR), respectively. They found that the alpha carotene level was significantly lower in non-smokers of diabetic patients with DR compared to the controls. Meanwhile, the diabetic patients without DR had significantly lower level of beta-carotene compared to control group. The researchers concluded that beta-carotene may have protective effect on Diabetes Mellitus, while alpha-carotene may be protective for Diabetic Retinopathy in diabetic, non-smoking patients (ref. 17).  


    The interest and formulation of natural plant multi-carotenoids in dietary supplement formulations have been on the rise for the past 20 years. Companies and consumers are moving away from a single form beta-carotene supplement. This is not surprising as most people in developing and developed countries are not deficient in vitamin A. Consumers’ current concerns are beyond vitamin A and mainly related to the current ageing-health issues.  

    Natural mixed-carotene consists of α-carotene, β-carotene, gamma-carotene, and lycopene can be extracted from sustainably-sourced non-GMO palm fruits. Its bouquet of carotenes provides both pro-vitamin A and unique biological activities. Hence, natural palm mixed-carotene is an excellent dietary supplement ingredient for multivitamin and specific formula such as vision health, immune enhancement, healthy ageing and oral beauty (skin & hair health).