Description Beta-carotene is a precursor form of vitamin A.  It is converted to vitamin A in the body on an ‘as-required’ basis.
Function/ Used for In its unconverted form, beta-carotene acts as an antioxidant in the body, neutralising potentially damaging free radicals.

If it is converted in the body then its actions are those of vitamin A.

Intake Recommended intake

EU NRV: Not established.


UK average daily intake

In the UK, the average adult diet provides 2.58 mg (beta-carotene) daily.1

Five portions of fruit and vegetables per day will usually provide about 6mg of beta-carotene. However, apples, bananas and onions provide almost no beta-carotene.

As a supplement Not generally available as a single supplement. Commonly available as part of a multivitamin and mineral formula.

Different multivitamin and minerals products will vary in the percentage NRVs they include. People should always check the label for information about a specific product.

Found in (dietary sources) Beta-carotene gives yellow and orange fruit and vegetables their colour. Therefore, rich sources include brightly coloured fruit and vegetables such as carrots, red pepper, spinach (and other dark green leafy vegetables), mango, peaches and apricots (60 per cent of the average UK intake comes from carrots).

Levels are stable during cooking, but losses occur due to exposure to light and air.

Deficiency There are no known deficiency symptoms.
Precautions and contraindications High intakes are not recommended for smokers. Two large-scale studies have shown an association between beta-carotene supplementation (20mg/day) and an increased incidence of lung cancer in smokers and individuals with previous high-level exposure to asbestos.2,3

Safe Upper Level: 7mg/day4

Use in pregnancy and breastfeeding Beta-carotene is converted to vitamin A in the body on an ‘as required’ basis which reduces the risk of vitamin A toxicity. This makes it safe during pregnancy when high levels of vitamin A itself (retinol) should be avoided.
Interactions e.g. with other medications Beta carotene may interact with alcohol increasing the liver toxicity of alcohol5
Adverse effects Carotenoids are generally non-toxic.

Intake of >30mg daily may lead to hypercarotenemia which is characterised by a yellowish colouration of the skin (including soles of feet and palms of hand). This is harmless and reversible.6

References 1 DEFRA. Family Food 2014.UK Purchases and expenditure on food and drink and derived energy and nutrient intakes. National Statistics, December 2015.

2 The Alpha-Tocopherol, Beta Carotene Cancer Prevention Study Group. (1994) The effect of vitamin E and beta carotene on the incidence of lung cancer and other cancers in male smokers. New England Journal of Medicine 330, 1029-1035.

3 Omenn, G.S., Goodman, G.E., Thornquist, M.D., Balmes, J., Cullen, M.R., Glass, A., Keogh, J.P., Meyskens, F.L., Valanis, B., Williams, J.H., Barnhart, S., Hammer, S. (1996). Effects of a combination of beta-carotene and vitamin A on lung cancer and cardiovascular disease. New England Journal Medicine 334, 1150-1155

4 Expert Group on Vitamins and Minerals, 2003.

5 Leo M. A & Lieber C.S. Alcohol, Vitamin A and βcarotene: adverse interactions including hepatotoxicity and carcinogenicity. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. June 1999 vol 69:6 pp1071-1085

6 Mason, P. Dietary Supplements. Pharmaceutical press, London, 2001