Cervical Cancer and Beta-Carotene
Beta-carotene belongs to a family of natural chemicals known as carotenoids. Widely found in plants, carotenoids along with another group of chemicals, bioflavonoids, give color to fruits, vegetables, and other plants.
Beta-carotene is a particularly important carotenoid from a nutritional standpoint, because the body easily transforms it to vitamin A. While vitamin A supplements themselves can be toxic when taken to excess, it is believed (although not proven) that the body will make only as much vitamin A out of beta-carotene as it needs. Assuming this is true, this built-in safety feature makes beta-carotene an extremely great way to get your vitamin A.
For the treatment of cervical or any other form of cancer, it is important to keep a well-rounded diet, perhaps take herbal supplements, and certainly determine if any of the medications you are taking are creating deficiencies of key nutrients in your body.
Effect of Beta-Carotene on Cervical Cancer
Beta-carotene is also often recommended for another reason: it is an antioxidant, like vitamin E and vitamin C. In observational studies, high intake of carotenoids from food has been associated with reduced risk of various illnesses, including heart disease and cancer. Therefore, it is thought to be possibly beneficial as part of a cervical cancer treatment regime.
How to Use Beta-Carotene
Although beta-carotene is not a required nutrient, vitamin A is essential for health, and beta-carotene is converted into vitamin A in the body. The exact conversion factor varies with the circumstances; in general, 2 mcg of beta-carotene in supplement form is thought to be equivalent to 1 mcg of vitamin A. See the article on vitamin A for requirements based on age and sex.
Dark green and orange-yellow vegetables are good sources of beta-carotene. These include carrots, sweet potatoes, squash, spinach, romaine lettuce, broccoli, apricots, and green peppers.
We are not sure at the present time whether it is advisable to take dosages of beta-carotene supplements much higher than the recommended allowance for nutritional purposes, which is about 1.5 to 1.8 mg daily in adults. Rather than taking doses higher than this, it is probably more advisable to increase your intake of fresh fruits and vegetables.
Side Effects and Warnings
At recommended dosages, beta-carotene is believed to be very safe. The only side effects reported from beta-carotene overdose are diarrhea and a yellowish tinge to the hands and feet. These symptoms disappear once you stop taking beta-carotene or reduce your dose.
However, long-term use of beta-carotene supplements, especially at doses considerably above the amount necessary to supply adequate vitamin A, might slightly increase the risk of heart disease and certain forms of cancer, and raise overall death rate. ^ A large study following 77,126 adults over age 50 suggested that long-term use of beta-carotene, lutein or retinol supplements may increase lung cancer risk. Long-term supplement use was determined by subjects' memory of the previous 10 years, so the results of this study should be interpreted with some caution. ^ If you are concerned about risk of long-term supplementation, one solution would be to eat plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables and get your beta-carotene that way.
In addition, some evidence suggests that beta-carotene supplements might cause alcoholic liver disease to develop more rapidly in individuals who abuse alcohol. ^