Supplementation of Adult Rats with Moderate Amounts of β-Carotene Modulates the Redox Status in Plasma without Exerting Pro-Oxidant Effects in the Brain: A Safer Alternative to Food Fortification with Vitamin A?
β-carotene is the most abundant provitamin A carotenoid in human diet and tissues. It exerts a number of beneficial functions in mammals, including humans, owing to its ability to generate vitamin A as well as to emerging crucial signaling functions of its metabolites. Even though β-carotene is generally considered a safer form of vitamin A due to its highly regulated intestinal absorption, detrimental effects have also been ascribed to its intake, at least under specific circumstances. A better understanding of the metabolism of β-carotene is still needed to unequivocally discriminate the conditions under which it may exert beneficial or detrimental effects on human health and thus to enable the formulation of dietary recommendations adequate for different groups of individuals and populations worldwide. Here we provide a general overview of the metabolism of this vitamin A precursor in mammals with the aim of identifying the gaps in knowledge that call for immediate attention. We highlight the main questions that remain to be answered in regards to the cleavage, uptake, extracellular and intracellular transport of β-carotene as well as the interactions between the metabolism of β-carotene and that of other macronutrients such as lipids.