Healthy living

Why carrots can help you live longer

Carrots help you live longer Yellow-orange and dark green vegetables linked to reduced risk of death

The old adage "eat your greens" needs to be updated, according to new research.

It should be "eat your dark greens and yellow-oranges", as researchers found that increased consumption of yellow-orange coloured vegetables such as carrots, squashes and pumpkins and dark green ones such as broccoli, peas and spinach can reduce the risk of death.

Vegetables contain compounds that can help reduce damage to cells caused by oxygen - hence the name anti-oxidants. In particular one class of these anti-oxidants, the carotenoids, which are mainly obtained by eating fruit and vegetables.

Cartenoids come in various 'flavours' - including beta-carotene, alpha-carotene and lycopene. Beta-carotene is widely available as a dietary supplement, and although studies have shown the health benefits of vegetables, no evidence has been found to suggest that taking beta-carotene supplements has any positive effects.

Scientists from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta investigated the effects of alpha-carotenes on health by looking at the risk of death among 15,318 adults age 20 and older who were part of the Third National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey.

The study followed the participants over a prolonged period, and found a clear link between reduced risk of death and higher levels of alpha-carotene in the blood. At the highest level, of 9 micrograms per decilitre, the risk of death was reduced by 39 per cent.

Higher alpha-carotene concentration also appeared to be associated with lower risk of dying from cardiovascular disease or cancer individually, and of all other causes.

"The association between serum alpha-carotene concentrations and risk of death from all causes was significant in most subgroups stratified by demographic characteristics, lifestyle habits and health risk factors," the authors said.

Although alpha-carotene is chemically similar to beta-carotene, it may be more effective at inhibiting the growth of cancer cells in the brain, liver and skin, according to the authors.

The study noted that eating yellow-orange (carrots, sweet potatoes or pumpkin and winter squash) and dark-green (broccoli, green beans, green peas, spinach, turnips greens, collards and leaf lettuce) vegetables, which all have a high alpha-carotene content, was more strongly associated with a decreased risk of lung cancer than other vegetables.

The study results are published in the Archives of Internal Medicine.

This article was published on Tue 23 November 2010

Image © Irina Yun -

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