Carotenoids, mainly found in plants, algae, and photosynthetic bacteria, are a class of natural fat-soluble pigments that play a critical role in the photosynthetic process. Carotenoids are responsible for many of the red, orange, and yellow hues of plant leaves, fruits, and flowers, as well as the colors of some birds, insects, fish, and crustaceans. Some familiar examples of carotenoid coloration are the oranges of carrots and citrus fruits, the reds of peppers and tomatoes, and the pinks of flamingoes and salmon.
Carotenoids also occur in some non-photosynthetic bacteria, yeasts, and molds, where they may carry out a protective function against damage by light and oxygen. Humans and animals are unable of synthesizing carotenoids, but do need them as carotenoids serve as antioxidants and can be a source for vitamin A.
A large body of research shows that enjoying a diet that is rich in carotenoids can not only add a good number of years to your life, but also help to add quality to those years as carotenoids greatly slash your risk to develop degenerative diseases.
A number of recent studies have shown that a diet rich in carotenoid-rich produce, particularly tomato products largely reduces the risk to develop certain cancers. In a study done over a period of six years, professionals at Harvard Medical School tested 48000 men and found that those who consumed between five to seven servings of tomatoes and tomato based products a week reduced their risk of prostate cancer by 21% to 34%.
Another study published in the International Journal of Cancer stated that the carotenoid lycopene appears to protect against cancer of the mouth, pharynx, esophagus, stomach, colon and rectum. Researchers at the University of Illinois say that women who ingested the highest lycopene levels had a 500% lower risk of developing precancerous signs of cervical cancer than women with lowest lycopene levels.
Lycopene is one member of the carotenoid family that has been extensively researched. There are many more members in the family of carotenoids that are far less researched yet they are equally important. It is further important to understand that no phyto-chemicals appear in nature in isolated ways. They always come and work synergistically with other compounds.
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