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Beta carotene, like all carotenoids, is an antioxidant product. An antioxidant is a substance that inhibits the oxidation of other molecules; it protects the body from free radicals.
Free radicals damage cells through oxidation. Eventually, the damage caused by free radicals can cause several chronic illnesses.
Several studies have shown that antioxidants through diet help people's immune systems, protect against free radicals, and lower the risk of developing cancer and heart disease.
Some studies have suggested that those who consume at least four daily servings of beta carotene rich fruits and/or vegetables have a lower risk of developing cancer or heart disease.
Men who have been taking beta carotene supplements for 15 or more years are considerably less likely to experience cognitive decline than other males, researchers from Harvard Medical School reported in Archives of Internal Medicine (November 2007 issue).
Oxidative stress is thought to be a key factor in cognitive decline, the researchers explained. Studies have shown that antioxidant supplements may help prevent the deterioration of cognition.
Their study, involving 4,052 men, compared those on beta carotene supplements for an average of 18 years to others who were given placebo. Over the short-term, they found no difference in cognitive decline risk between the two groups of men, but in the long-term it was clear that beta carotene supplements made a significant difference.
The researchers emphasized that there may have been other factors which contributed to the slower decline in cognitive abilities among the men in the beta carotene group.
The BMJ published a report in March 2006 which showed that high blood beta carotene levels compensate for some of the damage to the lungs caused by oxygen free radicals.
They measured the FEV1 of 535 participants and measured their beta carotene blood levels. FEV1 measures how much air you can breathe out in one go. They found that those with high beta carotene levels had much slower decline in FEV1 measures.
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