Carrots are wholesome, however lively enzyme unlocks full advantages

(From left): PhD students Ivan Pinos and Johana Coronel, and Assistant Professor Jaume Amengual, Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition at the University of Illinois with the latest issue of the Journal of Lipid Research. Photo credit: College of ACES.

Carrots are a good source of beta-carotene, which is a precursor to vitamin A. However, in order to get the full health benefits of this superfood, you need an active enzyme to produce this vitamin.

Beta-carotene is the bioactive compound that gives carrots their orange color. Studies in humans and mice show that converting beta-carotene into vitamin A lowers the “bad” cholesterol in the blood. Beta-carotene can help protect against the development of arteriosclerosis, which leads to the accumulation of fats and cholesterol in our arteries. Atherosclerosis and cardiovascular disease are the leading cause of death worldwide, says Jaume Amengual, assistant professor of personalized nutrition in the Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition at the University of Illinois.

Amengual and colleagues conducted two studies to better understand the effects of beta-carotene on cardiovascular health. They acknowledged its importance, but identified a critical step in the process.

Beta-carotene is converted into vitamin A with the help of an enzyme called beta-carotene oxygenase 1 (BCO1). Genetic variation determines whether you have a more or less active version of BCO1. People with a less active enzyme might need other sources of vitamin A in their diet, Amengual says.

The first study published in the Journal of Nutrition analyzed blood and DNA samples from 767 healthy young adults aged 18-25 years. As expected, the researchers found a correlation between BCO1 activity and bad cholesterol levels.

“People who had a genetic variant that was linked to activation of the enzyme BCO1 had lower blood cholesterol levels. That was our first observation,” notes Amengual.

To pursue these results, Amengual and colleagues conducted a second study in mice, published in the Journal of Lipid Research.

“In the human study, we saw that cholesterol levels are higher in people who don’t make a lot of vitamin A. To know if this observation has long-term effects, we would have to wait 70 years to see if they are cardiovascular – Developing Diseases This is not feasible in real life, so we use animals for certain studies so that we can speed up the process, “he explains.

“The main results of the mouse study reproduce what we found in humans. We have seen that when given beta-carotene, mice have lower cholesterol levels. These mice develop smaller atherosclerotic lesions or plaques in their arteries. This means, that mice given beta-carotene are better protected against atherosclerosis than mice given a diet without this bioactive compound, “said Amengual.

In the second study, the researchers also examined the biochemical pathways of these processes and determined where in the body the effect occurs.

“We limit it to the liver as the organ responsible for the production and secretion of lipoproteins in the blood, including the lipoproteins known as bad cholesterol. We have observed that in mice with high levels of vitamin A the secretion of lipids in the blood circulation becomes slower below, “Amengual notes.

Understanding how the BCO1 enzyme is related to cholesterol has important implications. Typically, high levels of beta-carotene in the blood are associated with health benefits. But it could also be a sign of a less active BCO1 enzyme that doesn’t convert the beta-carotene we eat into vitamin A.

Up to 50% of the population have the less active variant of the enzyme, notes Amengual. This means that your body makes vitamin A more slowly from plant sources and you may need to get this nutrient directly from animal sources like milk or cheese.

An enzyme that digests vitamin A can also regulate testosterone levels

More information:
Jaume Amengual et al. Β-carotene oxygenase 1 activity modulates circulating cholesterol levels in mice and humans, The Journal of Nutrition (2020). DOI: 10.1093 / jn / nxaa143

Felix Zhou et al. Conversion of β-carotene to vitamin A delays the progression of atherosclerosis by reducing liver lipid secretion in mice, Journal of Lipid Research (2020). DOI: 10.1194 / jlr.RA120001066

Provided by the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

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