Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Those Colorful Carotenoids

They can help you see better and reduce your risk of heart disease and cancer, and live longer.

Did you know that every time you whip up a colorful salad, you are creating a feast of free radical fighting carotenoids?

The carotenoids- alpha, beta, and gamma carotenes, lutein, zeaxanthin, lycopene - just to name a few. Carotenoids, which include a vast family of more than 600 compounds are naturally occurring chemicals found in a range of nature's food plants, fruits, vegetables and herbs. In fact, there are about 60 of these 600 carotenoids found in food!

While you are probably familiar with beta-carotene, it's important for you to become familiar with the other prominent family members.

The Carotenoid Family

Carotene (Alpha, Beta and Gamma)
The carotene family (alpha, beta, and gamma) offers antioxidant protection for cell membranes. They are essential for healthy eyes, skin and mucous membranes; appear to aid in cancer prevention by scavenging, or neutralizing, free radicals; boost the immune system, shortening the length of a common cold; and play an important role in preventing heart and artery disease.

Good food sources include: carrots, corn, green pepper, leafy green vegetables, potatoes, squash, apricots, apple, peaches, cantaloupe and watermelon.

Lycopene is found abundantly in tomatoes, guavas, melons and pink grapefruit. Yet, for the strongest therapeutic advantage, you need to take dosages much greater than that found in food. Since lycopene is the most abundant carotenoid found in the prostate, it has been demonstrated, in combination with vitamin E, to reduce the risk of prostrate cancer. Lycopene has also been making headlines due to evidence suggesting this antioxidant lowers the risk of lung, stomach, pancreas, colon, breast and cervical cancer.

Lycopene's antioxidant properties also make it a valuable nutrient in protecting against heart disease. In a recent study, men with the highest concentration of lycopene had half the heart attack risk of men with the lowest concentration. Recently, the American Association of Cancer Research has praised lycopene for its ability to inhibit prostate growth.

Lutein, found in green leafy vegetables is one of the most dominant carotenoids found in the macula, the true center of sight at the back of the retina. Because of this antioxidants' yellowish color, it helps absorb the damaging blue rays from the light spectrum, warding off light-induced free radicals. The result. It helps protect your macula from potentially damaging forms of light and age-related macular degeneration.

In a study with subjects with advanced macular degeneration (AMD), those with the highest lutein and zeaxanthin intake had a 43% lower risk than those who had a low intake of these essential carotenoids.

Zeaxanthin, another antioxidant in the carotenoid family, like lutein, concentrates in the part of the retina where macular degeneration strikes. Once there, this nutrient protects the retina from damage caused by sunlight and heads off free radical harm to fats inside the eyes.

Go For Natural. Not Synthetic Carotenoids
It's is very important that when you are choosing a supplement that only natural carotenoids are selected. Why? Because research studies have documented they are better absorbed and retained by your body than the synthetic version. If the product label doesn't indicate it's natural, you can be sure they are using a synthetic form.

Even though the natural form is sometimes far more expensive, it's worth the extra money for these nutrients, since there's no benefit in taking something that's not well absorbed and utilized by your body.

How To Get The Most Out Of Your Supplements
Since the carotenoids are fat-soluble nutrients, for optimal absorption and use in your body, it's best to take these supplements with some fat-containing food.

If you are trying to decide which carotenoid to take, in order to harness the power of one carotenoid, it's best to take them all. Similar to B vitamins, the carotenoids work best when all members of the carotenoid family are taken together.

The health protective effects of this antioxidant family are spectacular. Though each antioxidant has its specific protective action, their effectiveness as a protective network can't be beat.


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