Send to

Choose Destination
Nutrition. 2001 Oct;17(10):818-22.

The evolving role of carotenoids in human biochemistry.

Author information

Department of Health and Clinical Science, University of Massachusetts, Lowell, MA 01854, USA.


The growth of our knowledge of carotenoid biochemistry has opened new and divergent paths for research. The earliest role established for beta-carotene in animals was as a vitamin A precursor, a role it shares with several other pro-vitamin A carotenoids. Additional studies have continued to refine our understanding of this function. Because carotenoids are excellent scavengers of singlet oxygen and respectable scavengers for other reactive oxygen species, substantial work was done concerning their potential role as antioxidants. In an unexpected twist, the ability of radicals in cigarette smoke to degrade carotenoids might be responsible for the finding that high-dose dietary beta-carotene increased the incidence of lung cancer in smokers. A new role for the polar carotenoids lutein and zeaxanthin was identified, when those carotenoids were found to constitute the macular pigment (the yellow spot at the center of the human retina). Many different carotenoids can be metabolized to products with retinoid activity, which might affect gene expression and cell differentiation. The formation of retinoids from diverse carotenoids might account for a portion of their activities as anticancer agents. Studies of lycopene in prostate cancer prevention have been very promising, and clinical studies of lycopene are underway. Carotenoids have emerged as the best single tissue marker for a diet rich in fruits and vegetables, and measurements of plasma and tissue carotenoids have an important role in defining the optimal diets for humans.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

Supplemental Content

Full text links

Icon for Elsevier Science
Loading ...
Support Center