Beta Carotene, along with other carotenoids, is a molecule that the body easily changes into Vitamin A. While most nutrition labels will list a recommendend amount of vitamin A to include in a healthy diet, most health professionals will recommend that beta carotene be the main source of that vitamin A consumption. The reason for this is that beta carotene and other carotenoids are found mainly in fruits and vegetables which contain a host of other vitamins and minerals and are very low in fat. Vitamin A, however, if consumed in its full form, is mainly found in butter and eggs. Getting your recommenced daily allowance of vitamin A without using beta carotene would mean eating large amounts of saturated fats that would be incredibly unhealthy. Once absorbed by the small intestines, beta carotene is changed directly into Vitamin A.
Vitamin A is necessary for a large number of metabolic functions similar to other vitamins. One of the major unique functions of vitamin A is it´s role in vision, especially dim-light vision. In third world countries where fruit and vegetables are not readily available, vitamin A deficiency is the leading cause of blindness in children. Beta carotene is a rather cheap vitamin to produce, which means this type of blindness is easily preventable.
Vitamin A produced from beta carotene is also necessary for normal cell growth and cell division. DNA replication requires the presence of vitamin A to function properly. Because of this, rapidly dividing cells often give the first signs of vitamin A deficiency. These symptoms include poor skin quality, brittle hair and nausea because of problems with the lining of the stomach. Vitamin A is also an important part of bone and teeth development. Inadequate Vitamin A during the growing years will lead to abnormal growth of the extremities.
Another important function of vitamin A includes it´s use by the body as an antioxidant. An antioxidant is a molecule that the body can use to block a number of harmful chemical reactions. One of these harmful reactions involves the interference of DNA replication by free radicals. Vitamin A and other antioxidants bind with the free radicals and keep them from disrupting cell division. Another very important action of antioxidants and vitamin A involve the formation of plaques by cholesterol. Once inside the bloodstream, cholesterol binds together and forms plaques which then attach to the inside of the artery wall and restrict blood flow. Antioxidants including vitamin A, keep the cholesterol from binding together, and also prevent it from attaching to the walls of the arteries.