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Beta-carotene is a carotenoid. Carotenoids are red, orange, or yellow, fat-soluble compounds. These compounds are naturally present in many fruits, grains, oils, and vegetables. Alpha, beta, and gamma carotene are considered provitamins because they can be converted to active vitamin A.

Commercially available beta-carotene is man-made or taken from palm oil, algae, or fungi. Beta-carotene is converted to retinol, which is essential for vision and growth.

Studies in humans show that beta-carotene has promising use for oral leukoplakia (pre-cancerous mouth lesions) and for sunburn. However there was a lack of benefit for sun damaged skin, mole prevention, heart disease risk, infection with H. Pylori, cataract prevention, diabetes, and stroke.

Research shows that beta-carotene increased the risk of bladder, lung, stomach, and prostate cancer. Also the general incidence of cancer in asbestos workers, smokers, or high risk individuals increased. Additionally, some research suggested increased risk of heart disease and death with beta-carotene supplementation.