Beta-Carotene and Other Carotenoids May Help Destroy Leukemia Cells

BACKGROUND: Carotenoids are naturally occurring pigments and antioxidants that protect plants from ultraviolet ray damage. Many studies have found that people who consume large amounts of carotenoids -- abundant in most fruits and vegetables -- have a decreased risk of cancer, cardiovascular disease, and other age-related degenerative diseases.

RESEARCH: In a study using human leukemia cells, researchers grew cells with levels of several carotenoids much higher than what would normally be found in the blood except through supplementation. They looked specifically at the ability of carotenoids to induce cancer cell death and investigated the mechanisms by which carotenoids exert their effects on human health.

RESULTS: Beta-carotene was the most effective in destroying leukemia cells, with its effect related to dosage and the length of exposure. After beta- carotene, lycopene, lutein, cryptoxanthin, and zeaxanthin were most effective, in that order. Studies also showed that antioxidant protection of beta-carotene, rather than degradation products, provided its effectiveness against cancer cells.

IMPLICATIONS: Carotenoids have numerous effects, including enhancement of immune-cell activity, improved cell-to-cell communication, and inhibition of cancer cell growth. This study is consistent with other cell research showing that beta-carotene can induce "apoptosis," or cell suicide, in different types of cancer cells.

Muller K, Carpenter KLH, Challis IR, et al, "Carotenoids induce apoptosis in the T-lymphoblast cell line Jurkat E6.1," Free Radical Research, 2002; 36:791-802.

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