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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. 1 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. 2 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. 3
- [No authors listed]. The effect of vitamin E and beta carotene on the incidence of lung cancer and other cancers in male smokers. The Alpha-Tocopherol, Beta Carotene Cancer Prevention Study Group. N Engl J Med. 1994;330:1029-1035.
- Satia JA, Littman A, Slatore CG, Galanko JA, White E. Long-term use of beta-carotene, retinol, lycopene, and lutein supplements and lung cancer risk: results from the VITamins And Lifestyle (VITAL) study. Am J Epidemiol. 169(7):815-28.
- Leo MA, Lieber CS. Alcohol, vitamin A, and beta-carotene: adverse interactions, including hepatotoxicity and carcinogenicity. Am J Clin Nutr. 69(6):1071-85.
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