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European survey finds higher carotene levels associated with lower 10 year all-cause mortality
The results of a study published in the October 2005 issue of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that higher combined plasma levels of alpha and beta-carotene were associated with lower all-cause mortality of an older population within a ten year period. In addition, higher carotene levels were associated with a reduced risk of dying from cancer, and, in nonoverweight individuals, from cardiovascular disease.
The study analyzed data from 1,168 men and women who took part in the Survey in Europe on Nutrition and the Elderly, a Concerted Action (SENECA), a prospective study investigating lifestyle and dietary influence on health that enrolled men and women between the ages of 70 and 75 from 1988 to 1989. Blood samples taken at the beginning of the study were measured for antioxidant levels, including alpha and beta-carotene and vitamin E.
There were 388 deaths during the ten year follow-up period. The research team found that having a higher plasma concentration of carotene was associated with lower all-cause mortality, with a 0.39 micromole per liter higher increment of plasma carotene associated with a 21 percent lower rate of death. The risk of dying from cancer showed an even greater reduction of 41 percent in association with increased carotene levels. Cardiovascular deaths were also inversely associated with carotene levels, although only in subjects who had a low body mass index. This risk reduction was the same for smokers and nonsmokers. While higher vitamin E levels were not associated with a reduction in mortality, neither were they associated with an increase in mortality from any cause.
When the team conducted a meta-analysis of 5 studies with similar data (including SENECA), older individuals in the top one-fourth of plasma carotene had a 28 percent lower risk of all-cause mortality than those in the lowest fourth.
The authors suggest that the reason the reduction in cardiovascular disease mortality associated with carotene levels was found only in those with a low body mass index could be the lower level of inflammation found in this population, and that “in the presence of a low inflammation burden, carotene may be protective against cardiovascular disease.”
Cancer adjuvant therapy
Carotenoids, acting as immune enhancers and free-radical scavengers, are important substances in oncology. When using carotenoids for antioxidant and cancer protection, it appears wise to use mixed carotenoids, that is, alpha-carotene, lycopene, zeaxanthin, canthaxanthin, beta-crytoxanthine, and lutein rather than emphasizing only beta-carotene.
The following are illustrative of the worth of mixed carotenoids:
- Lycopene offers targeted protection against cancers arising in the prostate (Kucuk et al. 2001), pancreas (Burney et al. 1989), digestive tract (De Stefani 2000), and colon (Nair et al. 2001).
- The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition added that individuals seeking broad-spectrum colon protection should also include lutein-rich foods in their diet (spinach, broccoli, lettuce, tomatoes, oranges, carrots, celery, and greens) (Slattery et al. 2000).
- Canthaxanthin, a less well-known carotenoid, was shown to induce apoptosis and inhibit cell growth in both WiDR colon adenocarcinoma and SK-MEL-2 melanoma cells (Palozza et al. 1998).
Researchers showed that the risk of breast cancer approximately doubled (2.21-fold) among subjects with blood levels of beta-carotene in the lowest quartile, compared with those in the highest quartile. The risk of breast cancer associated with low levels of other carotenoids was similar, that is, a 2.08-fold increased risk if lutein is deficient and a 1.68-fold greater risk if beta-cryptoxanthin is lacking (Toniolo et al. 2001). A Swedish study found that menopausal status has an impact on the protection delivered by carotenoids. Analysis showed that lycopene was associated with decreased breast cancer risk in postmenopausal women, but in premenopausal women, lutein offered greater protection (Hulten et al. 2001).
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Beta-carotene is the most potent precursor to vitamin A, but its conversion to vitamin A in the body is limited by a feedback system. It is an important antioxidant in its own right and one that can only build up to toxic levels in rare circumstances. Beta-carotene helps support immune health by enhancing the function of the thymus gland.
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