High on Beta-Carotene

Naturally Savvy
Naturally Savvy

Skin that is a yellow-orange color may not always be due to jaundice and liver disease. It is more frequently due to an excess of beta-carotene, the pigment seen in carrots.

People who consume large quantities of carrots or carrot juice or who take beta-carotene supplements may develop this condition (hypercarotenemia). Hypercarotenemia is easily distinguished from jaundice because the whites of the eye (sclera) remain white, while people with true jaundice caused by liver problems have yellow sclera (scleral icterus). Blood tests for liver function can be done to confirm this.

Millions of people in North America take supplements containing beta-carotene. Carotenoids are a group of over 600 different pigments that are found naturally in dark green, red, and yellow fat-soluble compounds. There are about 50 carotenoids that have provitamin A antioxidant activity. Alpha-, gamma-, and beta-carotenes are converted primarily in the intestinal mucosa to vitamin A (retinol) with the help of enzymes dependent on zinc. Approximately 33% of beta-carotene from food gets absorbed and only 33% of the absorbed beta-carotene is converted to retinol.

Beta-carotene is only found in the plant kingdom and is a precursor to vitamin A in the body. Vitamin A (retinol) is a fat-soluble vitamin found preformed in fish, dairy products and other animal products. Vitamin A is essential for normal growth, metabolism, vision, cell structure, the health of the bones and teeth, healthy skin, as well as the protective linings of the digestive, respiratory, and urinary tracts.

In some people, beta-carotene can accumulate in the body despite a low dietary intake. Beta-carotene can be high when it is inhibited from being converted into vitamin A due to deficiencies in vitamin C, zinc, protein, or thyroid hormone. These deficiencies and the resultant hypercarotenemia, are often seen in those suffering from malnutrition or anorexia nervosa.

Carrot-colored skin is harmless but can be cosmetically distressing. Improving nutritional status or thyroid function usually reverses the problem.

Zinc, copper, selenium, iodine, tyrosine, and adequate protein are all required to convert inactive thyroid hormone (T4) to active thyroid hormone (T3). The level of T4 and TSH may be normal on lab tests but this does not guarantee active thyroid hormone function which is largely determined by adequate levels of T3.

Signs of suboptimal thyroid hormone function include fatigue, low basal body temperatures, multiple food sensitivities, hypercarotenemia, depression, mood swings, fluid retention, hair loss, and possibly anorexia and high blood levels of cholesterol.

Before deciding on any specific treatments, it would be a good idea to get some basic conventional medical lab tests done. These tests should help explain why carotene levels are high so that appropriate treatments can be prescribed by a qualified health care practitioner.

Dr. Rona

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Dr. Zoltan P. Rona is a graduate of McGill University Medical School (1977) and has a Master’s Degree in Biochemistry and Clinical Nutrition from the University of Bridgeport in Connecticut (1984). He is past president of The Canadian Holistic Medical Association (1987-88) and is the author of three Canadian bestsellers: The Joy of Health (1991), Return to the Joy of Health (1995) and Childhood Illness and The Allergy Connection (1997). He is co-author with Jeanne Marie Martin of The Complete Candida Yeast Guidebook (1996) and is the medical editor of the Benjamin Franklin Award winning Encyclopedia of Natural Healing (1998). He has had a private medical practice in Toronto for the past 35 years, has appeared on radio and TV as well as lectured extensively in Canada and the U.S. Dr. Rona currently writes regular articles for Reader’s Digest, Alive, Vitality magazine and for several web sites. His latest book “Vitamin D, the Sunshine Vitamin” was published in 2010. In 2011, Dr. Rona was named Chief Medical Advisor for NAKA Herbs and Vitamins and has developed a line of nutritional supplements (TriStar Naturals) which are sold in health food stores across Canada. He can be found at www.highlevelwellness.ca