Pumpkins are one of the best sources of the antioxidant alpha-carotene. This carotenoid is often found alongside the more well known beta-carotene, but new research is suggesting it may be an even more powerful antioxidant for cancer prevention.
Good levels of alpha-carotene are believed to help protect our cells DNA from oxidative damage and enhance cellular communication. A large recently released medical study entitled ‘Serum alpha-carotene concentrations and the risk of death amongst US adults’ looked at the relationship between blood serum concentrations and the incidence of diseases in over 15,000 people in the USA over a 14 year period.
With demographics, lifestyle and known risk factors to health taken into account, there was a strong association between higher serum concentrations of alpha-carotene and a lower risk of cancer and cardiovascular disease.
Those participating in the study with the highest blood levels of the carotenoid were assessed to have a 39% lower chance of dying from diseases like cancer or heart disease over the 14 year period of the study.
In conclusion the researchers said, “Serum a-carotene concentrations were inversely associated with risk of death from cardiovascular disease, cancer and all other causes. These findings support increasing fruit and vegetable consumption as a means of preventing premature death”.
I’m not sure exactly how you’d come up with a figure like 39% for a lower chance of developing these serious diseases. But this was a long study of a significant number of people.
Some people will not be satisfied with this and suggest waiting around for another 14 years of ‘more research’. If you’re not one of them and would like to get more alpha-carotene into your diet, aside from pumpkins, just where do we find this beneficial antioxidant?
How to Get More Alpha-Carotene
The richest food sources of alpha-carotene are pumpkins, carrots, sweet potatoes, squash and leafy green superfoods like spinach and kale.
It would be nice to think everyone had time to make my healthiest pumpkin soup or warm pumpkin salad, drank regular carrot juice and ate their greens every day. Realistically though, a mixed carotenoid supplement, importantly derived from a natural source and taken with meals, would be likely to be helpful cellular protection for many people.
With all the potential free radical damage from chemical-laden modern diets and increasing environmental pollutants, mixed carotenoids taken with a meal containing dietary fats may help protect your cells from oxidative changes that can lead to cancer and other serious disease.
The best I’ve found, that I take myself, is CarotenALL, derived from antioxidant-rich palm fruit. Along with alpha-carotene and beta-carotene, it also contains lutein and the zeaxanthin for protecting your eyes, lycopene associated with a lower risk of heart disease and the powerful antioxidants astaxanthin and gamma-tocopherol.
Vitamin A and Alpha Carotene
When a person is deficient in vitamin A, alpha-carotene can be converted to vitamin A retinol to help maintain the body’s supply of this vital nutrient. This conversion is said to be very inefficient though, at about 24 to 1.
While supplements and food labels continue to measure carotenoids like alpha-carotene as vitamin A , I think it’s pretty clear by now that there’s much more value in their antioxidant potential than possible conversion to retinol.
Get more free-range eggs or butter from grass fed cows in your diet if you are concerned about low vitamin A. Alternatively, use a good cod liver oil that is rich in vitamin A but also contains vitamin D and the omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA. The alpha-carotene in pumpkins is most valuable as an antioxidant.
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