What is beta-carotene and how does it affect vision?
Beta-carotene is part of a subtype of vitamin A known as a carotenoid, or a dark-colored pigment. There are over 500 types of carotenoids, in addition to beta-carotene, each of which can be found in fruits, vegetables and other foods.
The specific color of the beta-carotene pigment is orange-yellow. Some of the most notable sources of beta-carotene include apricots, carrots and sweet potatoes.
After the body absorbs beta-carotene, it converts it into vitamin A, which supports several components of health. It is essential to consume beta-carotene to support your vision and overall well-being. If you don’t get enough in your diet, it can be taken as a dietary supplement.
Why is beta-carotene important to your vision?
The body converts beta-carotene into vitamin A, which provides various benefits for overall health — especially when it comes to your eyes. For example, vitamin A protects the surface of the eye (cornea) and provides a barrier against bacteria for the mucous membranes and skin. In doing so, vitamin A helps prevent eye infections.
Research has shown that beta-carotene can have several benefits for your vision:
Preventing night blindness.
Preventing dry eyes.
Improving retinitis pigmentosa (RP).
We’ll look at each of these benefits in more detail below.
Prevents night blindness
Night blindness (nyctalopia) is a condition that makes it significantly difficult to see in low-light conditions. This can be caused by several underlying problems such as cataracts, nearsightedness (myopia) and glaucoma. It can also be caused by a deficiency of vitamin A.
While a vitamin A deficiency can contribute to night blindness, research has found that taking supplements of beta-carotene and increasing your intake through your diet can improve symptoms.
Although beta-carotene can help treat a vitamin A deficiency, depending on the severity of your condition, vitamin A supplements may be more effective and work more quickly than consuming additional beta-carotene alone.
Reduces the risk of age-related macular degeneration
Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is a condition in which vision becomes blurry over time as central vision is lost. The condition most commonly affects people 50 years and older and can affect one or both eyes.
There is no cure for AMD, but some treatments can delay its progression, and in some cases, improve vision. In fact, research shows that high blood levels of beta-carotene and other carotenoids can reduce the risk of developing advanced AMD by over 30%.
Additional research has shown that the risk of AMD can be lowered in smokers when they eat a diet with plenty of fruits and vegetables that are packed with beta-carotene. Eating foods that are rich in alpha-carotene and vitamin C, in addition to beta-carotene, also helps prevent AMD.
Prevents and treats dry eyes
A lack of vitamin A in the body can have negative effects, such as dry skin and dry eyes. Since the body converts beta-carotene into vitamin A, such dryness can be relieved simply by getting enough beta-carotene in your diet.
Research has also shown that eye drops that contain vitamin A are a sufficient way to help lubricate eyes and treat dry eye syndrome. Studies even suggest that over-the-counter eye drops containing vitamin A are just as effective for treating dry eye syndrome as more expensive prescription eye drops designed for dry eye relief.
If you have dry eye syndrome, consult with your eye doctor for the best treatment option for your condition.
May improve retinitis pigmentosa
Retinitis pigmentosa is an inherited eye condition that causes the light-sensitive retina to degenerate slowly and progressively, eventually leading to blindness.
Research has indicated that 9-cis-beta-carotene, a form of beta-carotene, can increase the retinal function in those who have RP when it is taken orally and will essentially slow the development of RP.
A group of 29 patients who participated in one particular clinical trial were given 300-milligram capsules of 9-cis-beta-carotene-rich powder on a daily basis for 90 days and reported improved light adaptation during the trial. The results of this clinical trial suggested using beta-carotene as a form of treatment for patients with RP, though further research is needed to confirm this result.
Sources of beta-carotene
You can take advantage of the benefits of beta-carotene whether you consume it through your diet or by taking a dietary supplement.
Foods that include beta-carotene
Beta-carotene can be found in various fruits, vegetables and other foods such as:
The richer the color of the food, the higher content of beta-carotene is likely present.
Does eating carrots help your vision? Yes, in a way. Given the vision benefits of the beta-carotene found in carrots, they certainly support your vision health. You should not rely on carrots to improve your vision prescription or consider eating them as a remedy for eye problems, however.
Supplements such as Lumitene and A-Caro-25 can be taken orally to provide your body with a proper amount of beta-carotene. These supplements are often recommended for people who have conditions such as cystic fibrosis, pancreas disease or malabsorption problems that keep them from getting enough vitamin A.
Beta-carotene supplements are available in capsules and tablets without a prescription, but it’s important to speak with your healthcare provider before beginning use to make sure they are right for you.
SEE RELATED: How to choose eye and vision supplements
What are other benefits of beta-carotene?
In addition to supporting vision health, beta-carotene:
Promotes healthy skin.
Improves cognitive abilities, especially in older individuals.
May lower the risk of type-2 diabetes.
Can slow the progression of atherosclerosis.
Can help treat lead poisoning, due to its antioxidant properties.
May reduce the risk of some types of cancer.*
* It has been found that eating foods with high levels of beta-carotene can reduce the risk of cancer, but this may not be the same for beta-carotene supplements.
See an eye doctor to support eye health
In addition to supporting your eye health with nutrition, be sure to see an eye doctor once a year for a comprehensive eye exam and for the proper care of other eye problems and concerns. These combined practices are sure to help keep your eyes healthy and keep your vision clear.
READ NEXT: Why are carrots good for your eyes?
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Intakes of lutein, zeaxanthin, and other carotenoids and age-related macular degeneration during 2 decades of prospective follow-up. JAMA Ophthalmology. December 2015.
Beta carotene (oral route). Mayo Clinic. February 2021.
A comparison of vitamin A and cyclosporine A 0.05% eye drops for treatment of dry eye syndrome. American Journal of Ophthalmology. February 2009.
9-cis-beta-carotene. PubChem, National Library of Medicine. Accessed May 2021.
Treatment with 9-cis β-carotene–rich powder in patients with retinitis pigmentosa. JAMA Ophthalmology. August 2013.
Nutrients for the aging eye. Clinical Interventions in Aging. June 2013.
An update on the potential health benefits of carotenes. EXCLI Journal. January 2016.
Page published in May 2021
Page updated in September 2021