Beta-carotene

Beta-carotene is what gives yellow and orange fruit and vegetables their colour. The main food sources of beta-carotene are yellow and green (leafy) vegetables such as spinach, carrots and red peppers, and yellow fruit such as mango, melon and apricots.

How much do I need?

You should be able to get the amount you need from your daily diet.

What does it do?

Beta-carotene is turned into vitamin A in the body and, therefore, can perform the same functions in the body as vitamin A.

What happens if I take too much?

Beta-carotene supplements have been found to increase the risk of lung cancer developing in smokers and in people who have been heavily exposed to asbestos at work.

It's possible that taking large amounts of beta-carotene supplements would also increase the risk of cancer in other people.

Some research suggests that having large amounts of vitamin A (retinol) over a long time may affect people's bones and make them more likely to fracture when they are older.

But beta-carotene doesn't have this effect. This is because the body's conversion of beta-carotene into vitamin A isn't very efficient, so it's unlikely to result in high levels of retinol in the body.

What is our advice?

You should be able to get the amount you need by eating a varied and balanced diet. But if you decide to take beta-carotene supplements it's important not to take too much because this could be harmful.

The Agency advises against taking more than 7 mg of beta-carotene supplements a day. But you should continue taking a higher dose if this is under medical advice.

People who smoke or have been exposed to asbestos are advised not to take any beta-carotene supplements.

There is no evidence to suggest that the beta-carotene we get from food is harmful.