CAROTENOIDS are ANTIOXIDANTS that are natural fat-soluble pigments found in plants. Humans cannot synthesize them (make them ourselves) and they have to be obtained from the diet.
Carotenoids have been shown to lower blood pressure, reduce pro-inflammatory cytokines, and markers of inflammation such as C-reactive protein, and improve insulin sensitivity in muscle, liver, and adipose tissues (fat).
When it comes to NUTRIGENOMICS, we love carotenoids because they are bioactive ingredients that can modulate gene expression.
There are more than 500 members of the carotenoid family, with only 50 present in our food, and 20 that are absorbed in the intestine and actually reach our tissues. They are stored primarily in our liver and adipose tissue -hence fat-soluble.
We all know the importance that nutrition plays in preventing chronic diseases. Alongside genetic risk and age, lifestyle and diet are considered major contributors to cardiovascular disease (CVD), coronary heart disease (CHD) and stroke.
Cardiovascular Disease (CVD) is a leading cause of death in the developed world and places an enormous burden on health services.
SOME BIG NAMES WITH PRETTY COLOUR
Think of the gorgeous pinks and reds in salmon, krill and shellfish. Due to its lipophilicity(can dissolve in fats), astaxanthin can cross the blood-brain barrier and reach the brain and eyes. Astaxanthin is a potent scavenger of free radicals which are implicated in many diseases of oxidative stress such as diabetes, cancer, and, neurodegenerative diseases. Astaxanthin has been shown to improve cholesterol profiles by reducing LDL-cholesterol(bad cholesterol) and triglycerides, while increasing HDL-cholesterol(good cholesterol) and markers of lipid peroxidation, inflammation, and thrombosis.
Beta-Carotene is one of the most widely studied antioxidant. Bugs Bunny loved a good carrot! But carrots are not the only source. Oranges, kale, spinach, turnip greens, apricots, butternut squash and sweet potatoes are high in this pro-vitamin A nutrient. High concentrations of beta-carotene is associated with higher availability of nitric oxide (NO) which is vital to vascular health. NO plays an essential role in maintaining vascular integrity and important for the prevention of atherosclerosis (build-up of fats on the artery walls)
Tomatoes and red peppers are the most obvious, but red grapefruit and watermelon also contain high concentrations of lycopene. Several studies have reported the antiatherogenic and anti-inflammatory effects of lycopene. Lycopene has also displayed positive effects on the maintenance of nitric oxide (NO) levels which results in greater vasodilation in the artery walls. (better oxygenation and elasticity in arterial vessels) Interestingly, higher levels of lycopene were found when tomatoes were slow-cooked with olive oil, rather than eaten raw. The good old Mediterranean Diet rules here!
Individuals with with SNP's in their BC01 gene have lower enzyme activity and a reduced ability to convert Beta-carotene to active vitamin A. These individuals will need to eat more foods high in B-carotene, or in some cases supplement.
Fucoxanthin is found in edible brown seaweed such as Wakame (Undaria pinnatifidadaria )
Fucoxanthin seems to induce an impressive reduction of cardiovascular risks such as obesity, high blood pressure, diabetes and chronic inflammation. Uncoupling protein-1(UCP1) gene expression is involved in whole body energy expenditure, and its dysfunction leads to obesity. Fucoxanthin increases the amount of energy released as heat in fat tissue by inducing gene expression in UCP-1.
A fascinating study conducted by Abidov et al. on 151 non-diabetic, obese premenopausal women found that a combination of pomegranate seed extract and fucoxanthin resulted in significant loss of body weight, and reduction in blood pressure.
Other edible seaweeds containing fucoxanthin are Hijiki, Ma Kombu, and Sargassum fulvellum.
Think of eye-health when you see lutein. Lutein is found in honeydew melon, oranges, sweet corn, polenta, egg yolk, zucchini, spinach, kale, parsley, turnip greens, broccoli.
Lutein has been shown to prevent lipid oxidation (free radical attack on fats resulting in damage to cell membranes) and is known for preventing age-related macular degeneration. Lutein is a powerful scavenger of free radicals (ROS) and is involved in decreasing inflammatory cytokines such as TNFa.
Besides eye-health, lutein has been shown to benefit cardiovascular health by protecting the myocardium (heart muscle) from ischemia/reperfusion injury and reducing morbidity associated with CAD. (tissue damage incurred following a heart attack).
These are a few good reasons to be eating these fruits and vegetables daily!
So get cracking and make sure to load some CAROTENOIDS into your trolley.
Iwamoto T et al. J Atheroscler Thromb 2000
Maria Alessandra et al. Carotenoids: potential allies of cardiovascular health?
McNulty H et al. Am J Cardiol 2008