DANIELLA CHACE

36 Power Foods with Carotenoids

CAROTENOIDS and Breast Cancer (better title)

These colorful nutrients are the ultimate guards for protecting your body from cancer cells.

Carotenoids are colorful, cancer-protective nutrients synthesized by plants, algae, and photosynthetic bacteria. They give many fruits and vegetables their distinctive yellow, orange, or red colors. Carotenoids are divided into two classes, carotenes (alpha-carotene, beta-carotene, and lycopene) and xanthophylls (beta-cryptoxanthin, lutein, and zeaxanthin). Carotenoids intervene in the development of breast cancer and reduce the invasiveness of existing cells (Mignone, 2009). Many studies have found that women who eat plenty of carotenoid-rich foods have lower rates of breast cancer. 

Prevention of Recurrence

Increasing fruit and vegetable intake can reduce the likelihood not just of breast cancer development, but of recurrence. In a study of over 1,500 women previously treated for early-stage breast cancer, those with the highest plasma carotenoid concentrations, thanks to their fruit and vegetable intake, had the lowest rates of breast cancer recurrence.

When we eat carotenoid-rich vegetables frequently, we increase and maintain their serum (blood) concentration. Five servings of carotenoid-rich fruits and vegetables each day is enough to maintain these protective levels. Studies using serum measures of carotenoids found a significant protective association against breast cancer (Pouchieu, 2014). Women who have high mammographic density (areas of dense breast tissue) but who also have high blood carotenoid levels have been shown to have a 40–50 percent lower risk for developing breast cancer. This finding indicates that carotenoids in the diet can lower breast cancer risk almost by half, even in women who have a higher risk.

Also, those who already have breast cancer were found to have a better outcome when their blood levels of carotenoids are higher. The Women’s Healthy Eating and Living (WHEL) intervention study showed improved prognosis after breast cancer diagnosis in individuals with the highest levels of carotenoids.

Some Carotenoids Make Vitamin A

Alpha-carotene, beta-carotene, and beta-cryptoxanthin are also provitamin-A carotenoids, meaning they can be converted by the body to retinol (a vitamin A precursor). Vitamin A and retinol help boost the immune system.

Carotenoids Acts as Antioxidants

Alpha-carotene, found in orange-colored vegetables and fruits, is most strongly associated with lower levels of cellular oxidation. All of the carotenoids are potent antioxidants, meaning that they bind to free radicals. Free radicals are atoms or molecules that cause damage by reacting with fats and proteins in cell membranes and genetic material. This reaction is called oxidation. It can damage cells and cause cancerous changes. When an antioxidant attaches to a free radical, it becomes impossible for the free radical to react with, or oxidize, other molecules. In this way, antioxidants may protect against the development of cancer. 

Cell Division Support

Carotenoids help maintain cell differentiation: the ability of body cells to develop different functions. This ability is often absent in cancer cells and may be a reason for their uncontrolled growth. Beta-carotene, one of the major carotenoids, may be particularly important because it is converted to vitamin A. Vitamin A is in turn converted to retinoic acid, which tends to reduce cellular proliferation, encourage cellular differentiation and inhibit angiogenesis.

Cellular Communication

Carotenoids also act as epigenetic (gene-modifying) nutrients that facilitate intercellular communication by increasing gene expression.

Apoptosis

Carotenoids also have the ability to induce apoptosis (cell death) in cancer cells (Bolhassani, 2015). Tumors occur because the fast-growing cancer cells do not die off as normal cells do. Many studies have shown that carotenoids increase the rate of apoptosis in cancer cells, which reduces the number of cells as well as the size of tumors. Lycopene and beta-carotene, in particular, have been shown to induce apoptosis in breast cancer cells (Gloria, 2014).

I get excited every time I read a study about a nutrient that can cause apoptosis. It’s beyond thrilling to see solid scientific studies proving again and again that specific nutrients can eradicate cancer cells. In most cases, these studies highlight common foods, such as herbs, spices, citrus, and greens, that contain these magical nutrients.

Carotenoid-Rich Foods

Alpha-carotene

            Asparagus

            Arugula

            Bananas

            Beans

            Beets

            Cabbage

            Carrots

            Cilantro

            Collard greens 

            Dark leafy greens

            Peas

            Pumpkin

            Red bell peppers

            Tangerines

            Tomatoes

            Winter squash

Beta-carotene

            Apricots

            Arugula

            Asparagus

            Bananas

            Broccoli

            Cantaloupe

            Carrots

            Chinese cabbage

            Chives

            Kale

            Grapefruit

            Mangoes

Peas

            Pumpkin

            Spinach

            Turnip greens

            Sweet potatoes

            Winter squash

Beta-cryptoxanthin

            Apricots

            Beets

            Cantaloupe

            Carrots

            Chili powder

            Corn

            Honeydew melons

            Nectarines

            Oranges

            Papaya

            Paprika

            Peaches

            Pumpkin

            Red bell peppers

            Tangerines

            Watermelon

Lutein and zeaxanthin

            Beets

            Broccoli

            Brussels sprouts

            Collard greens

            Corn

            Eggs

            Kale

            Green beans (cooked)

            Melons

            Mustard greens

            Oranges

            Peas

            Pumpkin

            Spinach

            Summer squash

            Turnip greens

            Winter squash

Lycopene

            Apricots

            Asparagus

            Beets

            Carrots

            Guavas

            Mango

            Papaya

            Pink grapefruit

            Red or purple cabbage

            Red bell peppers

            Sweet red peppers

            Tomatoes

            Watermelon