Carrots are once again in the limelight after a recent study revealed that this superfood is a good source of beta-carotene, an earlier form of vitamin A and can result in lower levels of cholesterol in the blood.
The study with humans and mice, which was later published in the Journal of Nutrition has shown that the conversion of beta-carotene, a bioactive compound that gives carrots their orange color, to vitamin A decreases “bad” cholesterol levels in the blood.
The team had analyzed blood and DNA samples from 767 healthy young adults aged 18 to 25 for the analysis.
Asst. Professor Jaume Amengual from the University of Illinois in the US, the author of the study shared his insights into the results stating that “thus, beta-carotene can help protect against atherosclerosis development, which leads to the accumulation of fats and cholesterol in our arteries. Atherosclerosis cardiovascular disease is the primary cause of death worldwide.”
During further studies, the research team not only confirmed the importance of beta-carotene but also identified a critical component in the process.
Beta-carotene by itself is not capable of its conversion to vitamin A but requires the help of an enzyme called beta-carotene oxygenase 1 (BCO1).
“A genetic variation determines if you have a more or less active version of BCO1. People with a less active enzyme could need other sources for vitamin A in their diet, Asst. Prof. Amengual answered.
Influence of Beta-Carotene Oxygenase 1 (BCO1)
Speaking about the correlation between BCO1 activity and bad cholesterol level, Asst. Prof. Amengual pointed out that “people who had a genetic variant associated with making the enzyme BCO1 more active had lower cholesterol in their blood. That was our first observation.”
To further explore the inferences from the first study, the team of researchers conducted a second study on mice which was published in the Journal of Lipid Research.
“The main findings of the mice study reproduce what we found in humans. We saw that when we give beta-carotene to mice, they have lower cholesterol levels,” the authors of the study reported while affirming that mice with higher levels of beta-carotene developed smaller atherosclerosis lesions, or plaques, in their arteries.
“This means that mice fed beta-carotene are more protected against atherosclerosis than those fed a diet without this bioactive compound,” Asst. Prof. Amengual concluded.