The Beauty of Bioactive Compounds, Carotenoids
Present in both plant and animal products, a bioactive compound is a molecular compound that has an effect on a living organism, tissue or cell.1 Bioactive compounds can also be synthetically produced and their potential healing power is being harnessed by humans for the natural health benefits they can bestow.
Bioactive compounds are different to essential nutrients in that they can be extremely beneficial but are not essential to the primary functioning of the human body.2 In the plant world, bioactive compounds are produced by the plant to perform a specific secondary function, often that of protection or defence and known as secondary metabolites. Some secondary metabolites are involved in helping the plant to obtain essential nutrients, which often means that plants abundant in bioactive compounds are also a high source of, or contain the most essential nutrients and are therefore the most beneficial in terms of human health.3 Studies have shown that this diverse group of plant compounds are important to maintaining a healthy immune system; can help improve certain health conditions, and could also be paramount in decreasing the risk of disease.
A very clever group of bioactive compounds, known as carotenoids are of particular value in terms of supporting our bodies. They are fat-soluble phytochemicals that have a molecular structure similar to Vitamin A and come under the general banner of Vitamin A. What’s unique about carotenoids is they are a source of Vitamin A that’s only present in plants. Not all Carotenoids, however, can be converted into Vitamin A by the body, but are valued nonetheless for other, unique medicinal properties. There are over 600 different carotenoids, of which some have been cited to be very beneficial to human health. Carotenoids are thought to be so salubrious because of their huge potential as an antioxidant. Antioxidants play a vital role in destroying free radicals in the body, stopping them from oxidising cells and tissues while generally minimising oxidative stress and maintaining cell health.
Many bioactive plant compounds, such as carotenoids, have been recognised to have rich antioxidant properties, especially when combined with other phytonutrients and antioxidant minerals and vitamins, increasing the bioavailability of the health-giving goodness they possess. Carotenoids are canny compounds reported to support the immune system; protect cells against damage; help protect against harmful organisms; act as an anti-inflammatory; protect skin tissue and prevent signs of aging.4 Carotenoids have recently been cited as beneficial to male reproductive health; may protect the health of the lungs and help combat asthma; and could help maintain a healthy cardiovascular system.5 Vitamin A substances have also been shown to contribute to gastric membrane mucosa protection and support the efficient function of the digestive system, this helps to eliminate digestive discomfort.6 Carotenoids are thought to possess properties that can help to prevent disease, in particular some types of cancer and diseases of the eye. Beta-carotene, lycopene, lutein, and zeaxanthin are types of carotenoids that have been cited as being of particular benefit in these areas. 7 Alpha-carotene, lycopene, and astaxanthin are also types of carotenoids that have been shown to have properties really valuable to human health.
How do Carotenoids work?
Certain carotenoids, having entered the body, can be converted in the intestine or liver to all-trans-retinol, a form of Vitamin A, where it’s active for use in the body. Beta-carotene, and alpha-carotene have been highlighted as most capable in this role. Lutein, zeaxanthin, and lycopene are carotenoids which are not converted into Vitamin A in the body but still have huge value in terms of human health and have been isolated as the carotenoids most beneficial to eye health.8
Sources of Carotenoids
Carotenoids can be found in various plants, algae and bacteria. Many of the regular vegetables we consume such as carrots, broccoli, kale, pumpkin, squash, peppers, sweet potato, and other red, orange and dark green fruits and vegetables are all a source of carotenoids. Carotenoids can also be found in fruits, such as citrus fruits, mangoes and apricots. Tomatoes and tomato based products are a top source of lycopene, for instance.
Factors such as heat, light and oxygen can all bring about passive oxidation which can change the chemical compounds and alter the molecular nature of the carotenoids present in the plant. This will affect the nutritional content or medicinal properties available. For example, much of the bioavailability of carotenoids is lost when vegetables, such as kale, sweet potatoes or carrots are boiled. In a similar way, fruit such as oranges, lemons or apricots, for example, will lose much of their nutritional value and the presence of carotenoids will diminish if kept at room temperature.
A range of dietary supplements is a good and reliable source of carotenoids, such as Lutein tablets, Astaxanthin tablets, Sage leaf tablets and Rosehip Tablets. Regular exercise and a diet rich in fresh fruits, vegetables, whole grains, healthy fats and fish are regarded as the best route to a healthy body and mind. Reinforcing a good diet with the right combination of dietary supplements can help ensure we’re getting adequate amounts of essential nutrients, vitamins, minerals and bioactive compounds. A standardised, concentrated dose ensures the nutritional, healing and beneficial properties of the plant are efficacious.
Vitamin A Tablets
Vitamin A is a fat-soluble vitamin that is predominantly stored in the liver. Vitamin A is an incredible vitamin with many benefits. It’s really an all-rounder and helps us to feel our best. It helps to promote a healthy immune system and has an important part to play in cell division and the growth of healthy, happy cells. Vitamin A is recognised as being vital for eye health and good vision. It’s also reported to help our skin to stay fresh and healthy and beneficial for maintaining strong, sound bones. Vitamin A is vitally important for the normal metabolism of Iron.9 Try taking this and other Vitamin A based supplements with an avocado which is ripe with “good fats,” and can help the body to take in the Vitamin A. Studies have indicated that eating one avocado can help the body to absorb twice as much Vitamin A.10 That’s pretty amazing!
Oxford Vitality extracts their Lutein from Marigold Flowers. There are other natural sources of Lutein; these are found in kale, paprika, cayenne pepper, spinach, broccoli, and peas. Lutein has been isolated as having the potential to protect against eye disease because of its ability to absorb harmful blue light that can damage the eye. Lutein and zeaxanthin are present in the retina at the macula lutea, which is the control centre for central vision so it’s easy to see the beneficial connection between Lutein and eye health.11
Astaxanthin is a molecule rich in carotenoids, a yellow/orange pigment and a derivative of the lipid soluble Vitamin A. The source used by Oxford Vitality is from the microalgae Haematococcus Pluvialis. Haematococcus Pluvialis is the most rich natural source of Astaxanthin with 40,000ppm. Astaxanthin is colloquially known as “The King of the Antioxidants”, due to its high level of active antioxidants. It has been shown to be x6000 stronger than Vitamin C activity, and x11 stronger than beta carotene. This is taken to maintain cell integrity. In addition, it prevents feelings of fatigue.12
Sage Leaf Tablets
Sage is bursting at the seams with antioxidants and coveted for its carotenoid properties. Sage can help protect the body from free-radical damage and the presence of carotenoids is thought to help protect against heart disease and possibly cancer; aid digestion; boost immunity and reduce the risk of bacteria in food. Sage can contribute to normal hormonal balance, particularly in women during the menopause. It eases and subdues symptoms brought about by hormonal imbalance, such as excessive sweating. Sage is also responsible for the health of the digestive system, stimulating normal stomach and intestinal tract function. Finally, sage has antiseptic and anti-oxidising properties which help to contribute to the body’s natural defenses.13
The Rosehip is known for its high levels of Vitamin C and Carotenoids. Due to it being a rich source of Vitamin C, it’s thought to possess antioxidant properties, helping to protect against disease and oxidative stress, while strengthening the body’s natural defenses. In addition, it contributes to the health of the kidneys, the liver, the respiratory system and digestive system. Moreover, Rosehip has been shown to also contribute to the health of the skin and eyes. In some studies Rosehip has also been shown to maintain the health, strength and mobility of joints for prolonged periods of time.14
Carotenoids all the way
So these carotenoids are very clever phytochemicals belonging to a diverse group of bioactive compounds which are proving to be beneficial to human health. Carotenoids possess powerful medicinal and healing properties that can help prevent disease and bolster our immune system. It’s clearly vital we get our ‘five a day’ in the form of a range of different fruits and vegetables to ensure we are giving our bodies all of the essential vitamins and minerals we require for optimal health. Enhancing a healthy diet with the right combination of dietary supplements can support and work in synergy with the goodness we gain from the food we consume; strengthening and improving our body’s natural defence system and helping us to stay healthy and feel good.
1 Medical Definition of Bioactive: MedicineNet 14 June 2012. http://www.medicinenet.com/script/main/srchcont.asp?src=compound+medical+definition