Request an Appointment:
or Call 1-888-824-0200
Patient Care Services
Patient and Visitor Information
Clinical Trials
Classes and Events

Health Library

Health Library Explorer
A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z A-Z Listings Contact Us
Click 'Back to Intro' to return to the beginning of this section.


Other name(s)

vitamin A, b-carotene, provitamin A


Beta-carotene belongs to a group of provitamins called carotenoids. They’re related to vitamin A. Their reddish-violet pigment colors plants. These include carrots, sweet potatoes, and apricots.

Beta-carotene is a precursor of vitamin A. It’s fat soluble. It doesn’t buildup in your body to toxic levels like vitamin A can. Beta-carotene is also an antioxidant. It helps keep cells healthy.

Main functions

Beta-carotene and vitamin A play a vital part in the reproductive process. They also help keep skin, eyes, and the immune system healthy.

Demonstrated uses

Beta-carotene and other carotenoids provide about 50 percent of vitamin A in the diet. They also help reduce free radical damage in your body.

Taking beta-carotene supplements can help you get enough vitamin A. These supplements are considered safe.

Reasons for increased need

Malnutrition is a leading cause of beta-carotene and vitamin A deficiency. Certain problems can keep you from getting enough vitamin A. These include lactose intolerance, sprue, and cystic fibrosis.

Women who are pregnant or breastfeeding may need to take supplements. Be sure to talk to your healthcare provider before doing this.


Beta-carotene is said to reduce the risk of certain types of cancer, such as prostate cancer. Some people also say it reduces the risk of heart disease and stroke. Note that there are no studies that back up these claims.

One study found a higher risk of lung cancer in smokers when they increased their intake of beta-carotene.

Recommended intake

There are no Dietary Reference Intakes for beta-carotene. The Recommended Dietary Allowance for vitamin A are included below. They’re noted in micrograms (mcg) of retinol activity equivalents (RAE). They’re also noted in International Units (IUs).




(mcg RAE)


(mcg RAE)


(mcg RAE)


(mcg RAE)


(mcg RAE)


300 (1,000 IU)










400 (1,321 IU)










600 (2,000 IU)












900 (3,000 IU)

700 (2,310 IU)

750 (2,500 IU)

1,200 (4,000 IU)




900 (3,000 IU)

700 (2,310 IU)

770 (2,565 IU)

1,300 (4,300 IU)


Age (months)

Males and Females (mcg RAE)


400 (1,320 IU)


500 (1,650 IU)

Food sources

This table notes the IU of vitamin A in foods. It also notes the percentage of your daily value of vitamin A that the food meets.


Vitamin A (IU)


Liver, beef, cooked, 3 ounces



Liver, chicken, cooked, 3 ounces



Milk, fortified, skim, 1 cup



Cheese, cheddar, 1 ounce



Milk, whole (3.25% fat), 1 cup



Egg substitute, 1/4 cup




Eating more fruits and vegetables can help you get more beta-carotene. Red, orange, deep yellow, and dark green produce tends to be high in carotenoids.

Signs of deficiency

Vitamin A deficiency can cause symptoms. These can include night blindness, fatigue, skin issues, and a weakened immune system. Severe vitamin A problems can lead to blindness. This is a leading cause of blindness in some parts of the world.


Beta-carotene doesn’t seem to be toxic in large doses. But high doses over a long time can lead to carotenemia. This causes your skin to become yellowish orange.

Excess beta-carotene is a problem for certain people. This includes people who cannot convert beta-carotene to vitamin A. This can happen to people who suffer from hypothyroidism.


There are no known contraindications to beta-carotene.


Orlistat, a medicine for weight loss, decreases how well beta-carotene and vitamin E are absorbed. It’s unknown if it reduces absorption of vitamin A.

People who take certain medicines should not use vitamin A or beta-carotene supplements. These medicines include isotretinoin, acitretin, and etretinate.


Online Medical Reviewer: Poulson, Brittany, RD
Online Medical Reviewer: Wilkins, Joanna, R.D., C.D.
Date Last Reviewed: 8/1/2016