Beta carotene is a powerful antioxidant that is converted to vitamin A in the body. While it offers many health benefits, too much beta carotene is not a good thing and may cause serious health problems.
According to the University of Maryland Medical Center's website (UMM), there is no recommended daily allowance of beta carotene -- the body only converts as much beta carotene from foods into vitamin A as it needs. As a result, it's difficult to overdose on beta carotene from food sources.
However, this rule does not apply to beta carotene supplements. According to MedLine Plus, supplements should only be used when medically necessary and are not meant for general use. When supplements are needed, they should only be used under a doctor's supervision. Common prescribed doses range from 10,000 to 83,000 IU per day.
Ingesting beta carotene from food sources is generally considered safe but may cause the skin to turn yellow or orange, a condition called carotenosis. This phenomenon is not uncommon for people who frequently make homemade juice with carrots or other vegetables high in beta carotene. The discoloration is harmless and can be reversed. To avoid carotenosis and ingesting too much natural sugar, Carrotjuice.com recommends drinking no more than 16 ounces of fresh carrot juice per day.
An overdose of beta carotene can happen when taking supplements in high amounts. These side effects are much more serious and may include:
- Hypervitaminosis A: According to PubMed Health, high doses of beta carotene supplements may lead to too much vitamin A in the body. This can cause serious and potentially dangerous side effects including visual disturbances, bone pain, dizziness, drowsiness, liver damage, skin problems, headache, nausea and vomiting.
- Lung Cancer: Although some studies show beta carotene may reduce cancer risk, smokers or people exposed to asbestos should avoid taking beta carotene supplements. This is because some clinical trials determined that smokers who take beta carotene supplements -- even in low doses -- may have an increased risk of developing lung cancer.
- Loose Stools: UMM mentions loose stools as a potential side effect of too much beta carotene.
- Increased Risk of Death: Medline Plus states that studies show taking high doses of beta carotene supplements may increase the overall risk of death from all causes.
- Bruising and Joint Pain: The Mayo Clinic reports that too much beta carotene supplementation may result in unusual bleeding, bruising or joint pain.
If you're taking beta carotene supplements and experience any troublesome symptoms, consult your doctor immediately.
Where It's Found
Although beta carotene is a carotenoid responsible for giving some foods a reddish-orange or yellow color, it's also found in leafy greens and some whole grains. Following are some natural sources of beta carotene:
- Sweet Potatoes
- Red, Green and Orange Peppers
- Collard Greens
- Turnip Greens
- Beet Greens
- Mustard Greens
- Dry Spinach Spaghetti
Get Beta Carotene from Foods
Beta carotene is an important antioxidant that supports immunity, vision and bone health. To harness its benefits while avoiding an overdose, stick to obtaining beta carotene from food sources instead of supplements. If you feel you may need to take supplements, consult your doctor to determine the best dose.