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Home  > Articles on Health  > Dr. Atkins on Carotenoids

Dr. Atkins on Carotenoids

The following article is an excerpt from Dr. Atkins' Vita Nutrient Solution:

Carotenoids: Cancer and heart protectors, antioxidants

"Understand the carotenoid story, and you'll be well on the way to grasping how nutrients maintain and enhance health. Some six hundred of these plant pigments exist naturally, yet you're probably familiar with only one: beta-carotene. For decades, this most important carotenoid was the "darling" of the nutrition community. Hundreds of studies were published demonstrating that people with higher beta-carotene levels had impressive protection against all forms of cancer, heart disease, macular degeneration, and a range of other degenerative diseases. Hoffman-La Roche, the leading supplier of the nutrient, confidently funded a series of studies that were expected to make their product, synthetic beta-carotene, a "must" in the lives of everyone who wanted cancer protection. Between 1994 and 1996 the studies were published, and synthetic beta-carotene laid the biggest egg since Dewey lost to Truman. Everyone asked why. How could dietary beta-carotene be of such spectacular value, while beta-carotene capsules actually seemed to make cancer prevention somewhat worse?"

"You'll get the key to the answer by noting this section refers to carotenoids, not just to beta-carotene. Although it is the most examined member of the carotenoid family, beta-carotene still is only one member. As we are beginning to understand, the carotenoids are a nutritional collective that work best in a fashion similar to the B complex. Their therapeutic worth may be only as good as the weakest link in the chain, and an overload of one could compromise the work of the others."

"The rather disquieting research findings from 1994 came from studies that tested synthetic beta-carotene, a chemical clone made in the laboratory that is not as easily absorbed into our cells as the real thing. The artificial version is inferior for two reasons:
  • It does not contain any of the other natural carotenoids.
  • Its overwhelming presence may interfere with our cells' absorption of the other natural carotenoids in food. For example, we know that the synthetic form lowers the blood's concentration of lutein, another carotenoid, with its own unique health-promoting power."
"The earlier conclusion that beta-carotene itself shielded us from disease was based in large part on research that didn't involve synthetic beta-carotene, but rather used natural supplements or natural food sources of the nutrient - kale, squash, tomatoes, broccoli, spinach, and so on. This distinction usually isn't mentioned. The therapeutic might of the real and artificial versions can differ significantly. As a relatively recent study illustrated, synthetic beta-carotene could not reverse cancerous changes in stomach cells. Natural beta-carotene could."

"Equally important is the usually disregarded fact that the carotenoids are fat-soluble nutrients. For optimal absorption and use in our bodies, they need to be consumed with some fat-containing food."

"To harness the power of one carotenoid, then, the secret is to use them all. Though we'll explore the qualities of individual complex members here, it is essential to use them together. With the enormous power of the entire spectrum of natural carotenoids, we can expect to benefit from all the disease-preventing, health-promoting potential of this nutrient complex."


"It's often noted that beta-carotene is most easily transformed into vitamin A. This certainly is true, but by functioning as an antioxidant in its own right, beta-carotene accomplishes far more without converting into the vitamin."


"Disregarding the artifact of taking synthetic beta-carotene, scientists have learned that people with the lowest intake of beta-carotene have a higher incidence of cancer, especially when this nutritional deficiency coexists with a low level of vitamin A. In tissue that bears cancerous growths, beta-carotene levels are measurably lower. Its protection extends to many forms of cancer, particularly that of the lung, stomach, and breast. Beta-carotene has also been shown to slow the activity of colon cells and, in doing so, to reduce the risk of colon cancer."

"To work its best, beta-carotene needs not just the other carotenoids, but other antioxidants. In partnership with vitamin C, for instance, it can reduce the risk of cervical dypsplasia and other premalignant lesions. In another study, supplements of 40 mg taken with retinol (a form of vitamin A) and vitamin E produced an improvement in 71% of people who had leukoplakia, a prime example of premalignant lesion in the mouth."

"In a natural form with the full array of other carotenoids, I have alot of confidence in beta-carotene. At the Atkins Center this treatment is a major, nearly invariable part of our therapy for established or disseminated cancer and we find that 90% of our cancer patients do better than they would be expected to do if they had relied on mainstream medicine alone. The majority of successful alternative cancer practitioners seem to agree about the value of beta-carotene."

Heart Disease

"The antioxidant action of beta-carotene plays a very important role in the prevention of heart and artery disease. A study of 333 patients who took 50 mg of beta-carotene showed that the nutrient reduced major cardiovascular events by 50% in comparison with people who did not take the supplement. Beta-carotene was also found to have a protective effect in angina patients, who experienced far less chest pain on diets that were high in natural beta-carotene. Beta carotene is also known to increase the level of the protective HDL cholesterol.

"Cholesterol cannot clog arteries until it oxidizes, and many studies have shown that beta-carotene can prevent this dangerous reaction from taking place. Although vitamin C appears to be the first line of defense in protecting cholesterol from going bad, beta-carotene plays an equally important role as the essential backup nutrient."

Immune Reinforcement

"Beta carotene also strengthens the immune system. Here is where I take advantage of its conversion into Vitamin A, one of our major infection fighters. It is important to note, though, that beta-carotene stimulates the immune system independent of its ability to turn into another vitamin. I prescribe natural beta-carotene routinely for all of my patients with chronic viruses and with acute and chronic infections. According to the research, doses of beta-carotene greater than 30 mg taken for more than two months produced a significant enhancement of immune system function. A lack of the nutrient is notably prominent among people with AIDS. One study found that over 70% of AIDS patients were deficient of in the lowest quarter of the normal range of beta-carotene levels, and another study found a thirteenfold reduction of the nutrient in children with AIDS. More to the point, dosages of 180 mg per day have helped AIDS patients reverse the depletion of their immune cells."

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