Purported Benefits, Side Effects & More


Purported Benefits, Side Effects & More

For Patients & Caregivers

Tell your healthcare providers about any dietary supplements you’re taking, such as herbs, vitamins, minerals, and natural or home remedies. This will help them manage your care and keep you safe.

What is it?

There is no definitive evidence to support use of beta-carotene supplements for preventing cardiovascular disease or cancer.

Beta-carotene is an antioxidant that is found in yellow and orange fruits, such as apricots, cantaloupe, and papaya, as well as squash, carrots, sweet potatoes, pumpkin, leafy greens, and broccoli.

High dietary intake of fruit and vegetables has been associated with reduced risk of cancer and heart disease. Although beta-carotene supplements do not appear to prevent or effectively treat either of these diseases, beta-carotene obtained from the diet may be beneficial. This is because it may interact with other phytochemicals in fruits and vegetables and have a greater effect on the body than do supplements.

What are the potential uses and benefits?
  • As an antioxidant

    Several studies support this use.
  • To prevent cancer

    Available evidence does not support the use of beta carotene supplements for preventing cancer. In fact, high beta-carotene intake has been linked to higher risk of lung cancer in male smokers and aggressive prostate cancer.
  • To prevent and treat heart disease

    Several large and well-designed clinical trials and population studies show that taking beta-carotene supplements does not reduce the risk of myocardial infarction (heart attack), angina, or coronary artery disease. In fact, a review of clinical trials showed that beta-carotene was associated with a small increase in overall death as well as death to cardiovascular disease.
  • To prevent cataracts

    Clinical trials generally have shown that taking beta-carotene supplements does not reduce the risk of developing cataracts, but a small study found that amounts of beta-carotene in the blood were associated with decreased cataracts, indicating that beta-carotene obtained from the diet, but not supplements, may be helpful.
  • To prevent and treat macular degeneration

    One clinical trial suggested that taking an antioxidant supplement plus zinc reduces the risk of macular degeneration, but it is not clear whether beta-carotene, or any of the other antioxidants in this supplement, were responsible for these effects.
  • To treat AIDS

    Although small studies have suggested that beta-carotene supplements could increase CD4 cell counts, clinical trials have not been able to replicate these results.
  • To stimulate the immune system

    Some laboratory experiments show that beta-carotene stimulates certain aspects of the immune system, but it is not certain that this effect occurs in the human body.
  • To treat oral leukoplakia

    Several clinical trials have shown that beta-carotene supplementation can induce remission of oral leukoplakia, a pre-cancerous lesion in the mouth.
  • To treat type 2 diabetes

    Data are conflicting.
  • To improve cognition

    Clinical findings suggest that long-term supplementation with beta-carotene may improve cognition.
What are the side effects?
  • Prolonged intake of high doses of beta-carotene can lead to carotenodermia, a harmless yellowish discoloration of the skin.

For Healthcare Professionals

Clinical Summary

A natural pigment synthesized by plants, beta-carotene is used as an antioxidant, as an immunostimulant, and to prevent or treat cancer, AIDS, heart disease, and leukoplakia. Beta-carotene, along with alpha-carotene and beta-cryptoxanthin, can be converted to retinol and is classified as a provitamin A carotenoid. Supplementation with beta-carotene does not increase overall vitamin A levels or lead to vitamin A toxicity.

Available data of beta-carotene supplementation for HIV-positive patients and its effects on CD4 counts (10) as well as cardiovascular disease are conflicting. A meta-analysis demonstrated a small but significant increase in all-cause mortality and cardiovascular death for the beta-carotene arm over placebo (11), whereas other studies reported no such effects (39) nor any benefits of beta-carotene supplementation against cardiovascular disease (12) (52), or its risk factors (13). However, higher intake of fruits and vegetables, but not antioxidant supplements, reduced intra-abdominal visceral fat (53) and was associated with reduced risk of cardiovascular disease, total cancer, and all-cause mortality (44). Supplementation (with or without vitamin A) may actually increase the risk of cardiovascular mortality (54). Beta-carotene has also been inversely correlated with metabolic syndrome (45)
Another meta-analysis did not find any correlation between beta-carotene supplementation and hematologic malignancies (46). Consistent associations between serum beta-carotene levels and risk of developing type 2 diabetes are lacking as well (14) (15).
Additional studies have reported beta-carotene to protect adults under 40 years from seasonal influenza virus when used with Levilactobacillus brevis KB290 (55); serum beta-carotene to be inversely associated with the incidence of cataract formation (16); higher intake of β-carotene (while avoiding vitamin C supplements) to be associated with lowered risk of acquired hearing loss in women (40); high dietary intake to have a protective effect on buccal cells from relative telomere length (RTL) shortening (41). Data on the effects of supplementation for preventing cognitive decline are conflicting (17 (50) (51).

Epidemiological associations between beta-carotene and cancer risk are conflicting. Whereas high dietary intake was associated with reduced risk of cervical cancer (1); and limited evidence suggesting an inverse association with overall survival in breast cancer patients (47), high serum levels were correlated with increased risk of aggressive prostate cancer (2), but with reduced risk of aggressive urothelial cell carcinoma (32). Findings of beta-carotene and chemoprevention are inconsistent as well. Consumption of beta carotene, vitamins A, C, fruits and vegetables did not influence the risk of renal cell carcinoma (31); supplementation with antioxidants, beta-carotene and vitamins A, C, and E, did not prevent gastrointestinal cancer, and beta-carotene may actually increase risk of lung cancer (54) and overall mortality (3) (4). Data from large, multi-center trials suggest that supplementation may not lower the risk of prostate cancer (5) (6); and in male smokers over the age 40, it may increase lung cancer incidence (7) (30) (42), regardless of the tar or nicotine content of cigarettes smoked (48). When combined with cigarette smoking, beta-carotene supplements may also reduce the efficacy of cancer therapies, resulting in increased recurrence and mortality (8). Additional data from a large-scale cohort study suggest that alcohol consumption, too, has a negative effect on the chemopreventive property of beta-carotene (9).

Furthermore, long-term supplementation may not have a meaningful effect on total or cancer mortality more than a decade after supplementation ends (49). The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) recommends against beta-carotene or vitamin E supplements for the prevention of cardiovascular disease or cancer (33).

Food Sources

Deep yellow and orange fruits (apricots, cantaloupe, papaya), squash, carrots, sweet potatoes, pumpkin, leafy greens, and broccoli (18) (19)

Purported Uses and Benefits
  • Cancer prevention
  • Cardiovascular disease
  • Cataracts
  • Macular degeneration
  • AIDS
  • Immunostimulation
  • Oral leukoplakia
  • Type-2 Diabetes
  • Cognition
Mechanism of Action

Beta-carotene has strong antioxidant effects, and protects lipid peroxidation and provitamin-A activity, thereby preventing oxidative damage (34). It was also shown to alleviate the severity of ulcerative colitis in a murine model by modulating several molecular targets including nuclear factor-kappa B, cyclooxygenase-2, interleukin 17, and connective tissue growth factor (35).

In other studies, beta-carotene reduced cell growth and induced apoptosis in a variety of cancer cell lines through caveolin-1 expression (20). It also induces glutathione production (21); enhances macrophage function and natural killer (NK) cell cytotoxicity; and increases T-helper lymphocyte counts. However, clinical findings suggest that beta-carotene can increase cancer risk. It was shown to induce angiogenic gene expression in human umbilical vein endothelial cells (HUVEC) as well as HUVEC migration (22); and stimulate cellular proliferation in pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma (23) as well as in lung cancer cells (24). Animal studies show that beta-carotene also promotes the development of pulmonary adenocarcinoma via increased cAMP signaling (29).

Adverse Reactions
  • Carotenodermia (yellowish, harmless discoloration of the skin):  Following excessive intake of foods and supplements containing large amounts of carotenoids (36) (37) (38) (43) (56).
  • Carotenemia and double phytobezoars: In a 47-year-old woman who experienced severe epigastric pain, vomiting and obstipation after adhering to a strict vegetable-based diet for several years consuming >5 carrots on a daily basis. Symptoms resolved after surgical removal of bezoars (57).
Herb-Drug Interactions

Ethanol: Hepatotoxic effects of ethanol may be potentiated by high doses of beta-carotene. A large-scale cohort study found that alcohol consumption has a negative effect on the chemopreventive activity of beta-carotene.
 (9) (19)

Dosage (OneMSK Only)
  1. Ghosh C, Baker JA, Moysich KB, et al. Dietary intakes of selected nutrients and food groups and risk of cervical cancer. Nutr Cancer. May-Jun 2008;60(3):331-341.
  2. Peters U, Leitzmann MF, Chatterjee N, et al. Serum lycopene, other carotenoids, and prostate cancer risk: a nested case-control study in the prostate, lung, colorectal, and ovarian cancer screening trial. Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev. May 2007;16(5):962-968.
  3. Bjelakovic G, Nikolova D, Simonetti RG, et al. Antioxidant supplements for prevention of gastrointestinal cancers: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Lancet. Oct 2-8 2004;364(9441):1219-1228.
  4. Bjelakovic G, Nikolova D, Simonetti RG, et al. Antioxidant supplements for preventing gastrointestinal cancers. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2008(3):CD004183.
  5. Kirsh VA, Hayes RB, Mayne ST, et al. Supplemental and dietary vitamin E, beta-carotene, and vitamin C intakes and prostate cancer risk. J Natl Cancer Inst. Feb 15 2006;98(4):245-254.
  6. Ambrosini GL, de Klerk NH, Fritschi L, et al. Fruit, vegetable, vitamin A intakes, and prostate cancer risk. Prostate Cancer Prostatic Dis. 2008;11(1):61-66.
  7. The effect of vitamin E and beta carotene on the incidence of lung cancer and other cancers in male smokers. The Alpha-Tocopherol, Beta Carotene Cancer Prevention Study Group. N Engl J Med. Apr 14 1994;330(15):1029-1035.
  8. Meyer F, Bairati I, Fortin A, et al. Interaction between antioxidant vitamin supplementation and cigarette smoking during radiation therapy in relation to long-term effects on recurrence and mortality: a randomized trial among head and neck cancer patients. Int J Cancer. Apr 1 2008;122(7):1679-1683.
  9. Leo MA, Lieber CS. Alcohol, vitamin A, and beta-carotene: adverse interactions, including hepatotoxicity and carcinogenicity. Am J Clin Nutr. Jun 1999;69(6):1071-1085.
  10. Coodley GO, Coodley MK, Lusk R, et al. Beta-carotene in HIV infection: an extended evaluation. AIDS. Aug 1996;10(9):967-973.
  11. Vivekananthan DP, Penn MS, Sapp SK, et al. Use of antioxidant vitamins for the prevention of cardiovascular disease: meta-analysis of randomised trials. Lancet. Jun 14 2003;361(9374):2017-2023.
  12. Hennekens CH, Buring JE, Manson JE, et al. Lack of effect of long-term supplementation with beta carotene on the incidence of malignant neoplasms and cardiovascular disease. N Engl J Med. May 2 1996;334(18):1145-1149.
  13. Wang L, Gaziano JM, Norkus EP, et al. Associations of plasma carotenoids with risk factors and biomarkers related to cardiovascular disease in middle-aged and older women. Am J Clin Nutr. Sep 2008;88(3):747-754.
  14. Arnlov J, Zethelius B, Riserus U, et al. Serum and dietary beta-carotene and alpha-tocopherol and incidence of type 2 diabetes mellitus in a community-based study of Swedish men: report from the Uppsala Longitudinal Study of Adult Men (ULSAM) study. Diabetologia. Nov 5 2008.
  15. Kataja-Tuomola M, Sundell JR, Mannisto S, et al. Effect of alpha-tocopherol and beta-carotene supplementation on the incidence of type 2 diabetes. Diabetologia. Jan 2008;51(1):47-53.
  16. Dherani M, Murthy GV, Gupta SK, et al. Blood levels of vitamin C, carotenoids and retinol are inversely associated with cataract in a North Indian population. Invest Ophthalmol Vis Sci. Aug 2008;49(8):3328-3335.
  17. Grodstein F, Kang JH, Glynn RJ, et al. A randomized trial of beta carotene supplementation and cognitive function in men: the Physicians’ Health Study II. Arch Intern Med. Nov 12 2007;167(20):2184-2190.
  18. Dietary Reference Intakes for Vitamin C, Vitamin E, Selenium, and Carotenoids. Washington D.C.: National Academy Press; 2000.
  19. Schuurman AG, Goldbohm RA, Brants HA, et al.A prospective cohort study on intake of retinol, vitamins C and E, and carotenoids and prostate cancer risk (Netherlands). Cancer Causes Control. Aug 2002;13(6):573-582.
  20. Palozza P, Sestito R, Picci N, et al. The sensitivity to beta-carotene growth-inhibitory and proapoptotic effects is regulated by caveolin-1 expression in human colon and prostate cancer cells. Carcinogenesis. Nov 2008;29(11):2153-2161.
  21. Takeda S, Bando N, Yamanishi R. Ingested beta-carotene enhances glutathione level and up-regulates the activity of cysteine cathepsin in murine splenocytes. Biosci Biotechnol Biochem. Jun 2008;72(6):1595-1600.
  22. Kiec-Wilk B, Polus A, Mikolajczyk M, et al. Beta-carotene and arachidonic acid induced DNA methylation and the regulation of pro-chemotactic activity of endothelial cells and its progenitors. J Physiol Pharmacol. Dec 2007;58(4):757-766.
  23. Al-Wadei HA, Majidi M, Tsao MS, et al. Low concentrations of beta-carotene stimulate the proliferation of human pancreatic duct epithelial cells in a PKA-dependent manner. Cancer Genomics Proteomics. Jan-Feb 2007;4(1):35-42.
  24. Al-Wadei HA, Takahashi T, Schuller HM. Growth stimulation of human pulmonary adenocarcinoma cells and small airway epithelial cells by beta-carotene via activation of cAMP, PKA, CREB and ERK1/2. Int J Cancer. Mar 15 2006;118(6):1370-1380.
  25. Zhang LX, Cooney RV, Bertram JS.Carotenoids enhance gap junctional communication and inhibit lipid peroxidation in C3H/10T1/2 cells: relationship to their cancer chemopreventive action. Carcinogenesis. Nov 1991;12(11):2109-2114.
  26. Brody T. Nutritional Biochemistry. San Diego (CA): Academic Press; 1999.
  27. Nierenberg DW, Stukel TA, Baron JA, et al. Determinants of increase in plasma concentration of beta-carotene after chronic oral supplementation. The Skin Cancer Prevention Study Group. Am J Clin Nutr. Jun 1991;53(6):1443-1449.
  28. Pronsky ZM. Power’s and Moore’s Food-Medication Interactions. 11th ed. Pottstown (PA): Food Medication Interactions; 2000.
  29. Al-Wadei HA, Schuller HM. beta-Carotene promotes the development of NNK-induced small airway-derived lung adenocarcinoma. Eur J Cancer. 2009 May;45(7):1257-64.
  30. Satia JA, Littman A, Slatore CG, Galanko JA, White E. Long-term use of beta-carotene, retinol, lycopene, and lutein supplements and lung cancer risk: results from the VITamins And Lifestyle (VITAL) study. Am J Epidemiol. 2009 Apr 1;169(7):815-28.
  31. Bertoia M, Albanes D, Mayne ST, et al. No association between fruit, vegetables, antioxidant nutrients and risk of renal cell carcinoma. Int J Cancer. 2010 Mar 15;126(6):1504-12.
  32. Ros MM, Bueno-de-Mesquita HB, Kampman E, et al. Plasma carotenoids and vitamin C concentrations and risk of urothelial cell carcinoma in the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition. Am J Clin Nutr. 2012 Oct;96(4):902-10.
  33. Moyer VA; U.S. Preventive Services Task Force. Vitamin, mineral, and multivitamin supplements for the primary prevention of cardiovascular disease and cancer: U.S. Preventive services Task Force recommendation statement. Ann Intern Med. 2014 Apr 15;160(8):558-64.
  34. Zhang PY, Xu X, Li XC. Cardiovascular diseases: oxidative damage and antioxidant protection. Eur Rev Med Pharmacol Sci. 2014 Oct;18(20):3091-6.
  35. Trivedi PP, Jena GB. Mechanistic insight into beta-carotene-mediated protection against ulcerative colitis-associated local and systemic damage in mice. Eur J Nutr. 2014 Jul 30. [Epub ahead of print]
  36. Boere IA, Hoskam JA. Yellow discolouration. Neth J Med. 2006 Feb;64(2):56-7.
  37. Sansone RA, Sansone LA. Carrot man: a case of excessive beta-carotene ingestion. Int J Eat Disord. 2012 Sep;45(6):816-8.
  38. Santos VM, Camilo AG, Souza LA, Souza DW, Marinho CS, Monteiro LM. A woman with treated breast cancer, recent neurological symptoms and xanthoderma. Acta Med Iran. 2013 Apr 6;51(3):195-8.
  39. Jenkins DJA, Spence JD, Giovannucci EL, et al. Supplemental Vitamins and Minerals for CVD Prevention and Treatment. J Am Coll Cardiol. 2018 Jun 5;71(22):2570-2584.
  40. Curhan SG, Stankovic KM, Eavey RD, Wang M, Stampfer MJ, Curhan GC. Carotenoids, vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin E, and folate and risk of self-reported hearing loss in women. Am J Clin Nutr. 2015 Nov;102(5):1167-75.
  41. Yabuta S, Masaki M, Shidoji Y. Associations of Buccal Cell Telomere Length with Daily Intake of β-Carotene or α-Tocopherol Are Dependent on Carotenoid Metabolism-related Gene Polymorphisms in Healthy Japanese Adults. J Nutr Health Aging. 2016 Mar;20(3):267-74.   
  42. Middha P, Weinstein SJ, Männistö S, Albanes D, Mondul AM. β-carotene Supplementation and Lung Cancer Incidence in the ATBC Study: the Role of Tar and Nicotine. Nicotine Tob Res. 2018 Jun 8.
  43. Wang ZS, Liu XK, Li J. Woman With Yellow Palms and Soles. JAMA. 2017 Apr 18;317(15):1574-1575.
  44. Aune D, Keum N, Giovannucci E, et al. Dietary intake and blood concentrations of antioxidants and the risk of cardiovascular disease, total cancer, and all-cause mortality: a systematic review and dose-response meta-analysis of prospective studies. Am J Clin Nutr. 2018 Nov 1;108(5):1069-1091.
  45. Beydoun MA, Chen X, Jha K, Beydoun HA, Zonderman AB, Canas JA. Carotenoids, vitamin A, and their association with the metabolic syndrome: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Nutr Rev. 2019 Jan 1;77(1):32-45.    
  46. Psaltopoulou T, Ntanasis-Stathopoulos I, Tsilimigras DI, Tzanninis IG, Gavriatopoulou M, Sergentanis TN. Micronutrient Intake and Risk of Hematological Malignancies in Adults: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis of Cohort Studies. Nutr Cancer. 2018 Aug-Sep;70(6):821-839.
  47. He J, Gu Y, Zhang S. Vitamin A and Breast Cancer Survival: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis. Clin Breast Cancer. 2018 Dec;18(6):e1389-e1400.
  48. Middha P, Weinstein SJ, Männistö S, Albanes D, Mondul AM. β-Carotene Supplementation and Lung Cancer Incidence in the Alpha-Tocopherol, Beta-Carotene Cancer Prevention Study: The Role of Tar and Nicotine. Nicotine Tob Res. 2019 Jul 17;21(8):1045-1050.
  49. Wang SM, Taylor PR, Fan JH, et al. Effects of Nutrition Intervention on Total and Cancer Mortality: 25-Year Post-trial Follow-up of the 5.25-Year Linxian Nutrition Intervention Trial. J Natl Cancer Inst. 2018 Nov 1;110(11):1229-1238.
  50. Rutjes AW, Denton DA, Di Nisio M, et al. Vitamin and mineral supplementation for maintaining cognitive function in cognitively healthy people in mid and late life. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2018 Dec 17;12(12):CD011906.
  51. Butler M, Nelson VA, Davila H, et al. Over-the-Counter Supplement Interventions to Prevent Cognitive Decline, Mild Cognitive Impairment, and Clinical Alzheimer-Type Dementia: A Systematic Review. Ann Intern Med. 2018 Jan 2;168(1):52-62.
  52. Takagi T, Hayashi R, Nakai Y, et al. Dietary Intake of Carotenoid-Rich Vegetables Reduces Visceral Adiposity in Obese Japanese men-A Randomized, Double-Blind Trial. Nutrients. 2020 Aug 5;12(8):2342.
  53. Yang J, Zhang Y, Na X, Zhao A. β-Carotene Supplementation and Risk of Cardiovascular Disease: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Randomized Controlled Trials. Nutrients. 2022 Mar 18;14(6):1284.
  54. O’Connor EA, Evans CV, Ivlev I, et al. Vitamin and Mineral Supplements for the Primary Prevention of Cardiovascular Disease and Cancer: Updated Evidence Report and Systematic Review for the US Preventive Services Task Force. JAMA. 2022 Jun 21;327(23):2334-2347.
  55. Satomi S, Waki N, Arakawa C, et al. Effects of Heat-Killed Levilactobacillus brevis KB290 in Combination with β-Carotene on Influenza Virus Infection in Healthy Adults: A Randomized Controlled Trial. Nutrients. 2021 Aug 30;13(9):3039.
  56. Tanaka A, Miyauchi T, Kitamura S, et al. Carotenoderma due to lycopenemia: A case report and evaluation of lycopene deposition in the skin. J Dermatol. 2022 Dec;49(12):1320-1324.
  57. Gupta S, Bourke MJ, Burgess NG. Pain and Pigmentation: A Puzzling Presentation. Gastroenterology. 2021 Mar;160(4):1034-1036.
Email your questions and comments to [email protected].

Last Updated