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Beta Carotene

Class: Vitamin A
ATC Class: A11HA
VA Class: VT050
Molecular Formula: C40H56
CAS Number: 7235-40-7
Brands: Lumitene

Medically reviewed by Last updated on Sep 18, 2017.


Weak antioxidant; precursor of vitamin A.a e f

Uses for Beta Carotene

Erythropoietic Protoporphyria

Used to reduce the severity of photosensitivity reactions in patients with erythropoietic protoporphyria (EPP).a e

Increases the development time for minimal erythema in EPP patients exposed to artificial light and sunlight.a

Macular Degeneration

Has been used in high-dose antioxidant supplements containing ascorbic acid and vitamin E with zinc in high-risk patients with age-related macular degeneration.128 130

Other Photosensitivity Reactions

Has been used in the management of polymorphous light eruption and photosensitivity caused by diseases other than EPP;a further studies are required.a

Other Uses

Not effective as a sunscreen.a f

Not recommended to reduce cardiovascular risk.100 101 102 105 106 107 e

Beta carotene supplementation has not been shown to reduce the risk for developing lung or other cancers.e

Beta Carotene Dosage and Administration


Erythropoietic Protoporphyria

  • Adjust dosage according to individual requirements and response.a f Adjust dosage to maintain blood carotene concentrations of 4–6 mcg/mL.a

  • Several weeks of therapy are often required before enough beta carotene has accumulated in the skin to exert a protective effect.a f

  • Patients should not increase time of exposure to the sun until carotenodermia is evident (e.g., yellowness of palms and soles).a f When carotenodermia occurs, cautiously and gradually increase exposure to the sun.a f


Oral Administration

Administer orally as a single daily dose or in divided doses, preferably with meals.a f h

Contents of capsules may be mixed with orange or tomato juice to facilitate administration to children.a f


Dosage expressed in terms of beta carotene; may also be expressed in terms of vitamin A in international units (IU) or retinol equivalents (RE).d f g h

1 IU beta carotene is equivalent to 0.6 mcg beta carotene.g

1 RE is equivalent to 6 mcg of dietary beta carotene.f g

Pediatric Patients

Erythropoietic Protoporphyria

Children <14 years of age: Usually, 30–150 mg (50,000–250,000 IU beta carotene) daily.a f


Erythropoietic Protoporphyria

Usually, 30–300 mg (50,000–500,000 IU beta carotene) daily.a e f

Macular Degeneration

15 mg daily in combination with ascorbic acid 500 mg daily, vitamin E 400 units daily, and zinc (as zinc oxide) 80 mg daily, with copper (as cupric oxide) 2 mg daily (to prevent anemia).128 130

Special Populations

No special populations dosage recommendations at this time.f

Cautions for Beta Carotene


  • Known hypersensitivity to beta carotene or any ingredient in the formulation.a f



Lung Cancer

Increased incidence of lung cancer following beta carotene supplementation has been reported in clinical trials of adult smokers and those exposed to asbestos.113 129 e

Carcinogenic potential of beta carotene supplementation has not been determined to date.a However, beta carotene supplementation was not carcinogenic in animal studies.e

Cardiovascular Disease

Beta carotene supplementation may increase cardiovascular risk (e.g., coronary artery disease, cardiovascular mortality), especially in current smokers.101 105 106 e

Sensitivity Reactions

Peanut Hypersensitivity

Some preparations of beta carotene (Lumitene) contain peanut oil.f

General Precautions

Skin Discoloration

Excessive beta carotene ingestion may cause reversible carotenodermia (yellowish skin discoloration); carotenodermia usually disappears when beta carotene is reduced or discontinued.f

Specific Populations


Category C.b f


Not known whether beta carotene is distributed into milk.a f Use with caution.a f

Hepatic Impairment

Safety not established; use with caution.a f

Renal Impairment

Safety not established; use with caution.a f

Common Adverse Effects

Reversible carotenodermia,a e f loose stools.a f

Interactions for Beta Carotene

Specific Drugs





May decrease GI absorption of fat-soluble vitamins (e.g., beta carotene)119

Allow at least 2 hours to elapse between (before or after) any orlistat dose and beta carotene administration119 121 125 127

Beta Carotene Pharmacokinetics



Absorption depends on the presence of bile and absorbable fat in the intestinal tract.a e f

Supplemental forms of beta carotene have markedly greater bioavailability than dietary beta carotene.e

Only 20–30% of supplemental beta carotene is absorbed unchanged.a


Photosensitivity protecting action occurs after at least 2–4 weeks and usually coincides with the development of carotenodermia.a


Decreased tolerance to light usually is evident within 1–2 weeks after discontinuing beta carotene therapy.a

Plasma Concentrations

Blood carotene concentrations reach a maximum and carotenodermia usually develops about 4–6 weeks after beginning beta carotene therapy.a

Special Populations

Absorption is greatly decreased in patients with steatorrhea and chronic diarrhea.a



Widely distributed in the body.a e Accumulates in the skin and in various tissues, particularly depot fat.a

Not known if distributed into human milk.a f



Metabolized, principally in the small intestine, to vitamin A;a f smaller amounts metabolized in the liver.f

Elimination Route

Excreted in fecesf and urine as metabolites.a





Tight, light-resistant containers.a


  • A carotenoid pigment that occurs naturally in green and yellow vegetables.a f

  • Precise mechanism by which beta carotene exerts photoprotection has not been established;a may quench the formation of singlet excited oxygen.a

  • No effect on the basic biochemical abnormality of EPP (i.e., erythrocyte, plasma, and stool concentrations of protoporphyrins are not altered by the drug).a

Advice to Patients

  • Inform patients that carotenodermia may develop after 2–6 weeks of therapy; usually first noticed as yellowness of the palms of the hands or soles of the feet and to a lesser extent of the face.a f

  • Advise patients against taking supplementary vitamin A because beta carotene will fulfill normal vitamin A requirements.a f

  • Advise EPP patients that the protective effect of beta carotene is not total and that they may still develop considerable burning and edema after sufficient exposure to sunlight.a f Explain that each patient must establish his own time limit of exposure to sunlight.a f

  • Inform EPP patients not to increase time of exposure to the sun until carotenodermia is evident.a f

  • Importance of women informing clinicians if they are or plan to become pregnant or plan to breast-feed.f

  • Importance of informing clinicians of existing or contemplated concomitant therapy, including prescription and OTC drugs, as well as any concomitant illnesses.f

  • Importance of informing patients of other important precautionary information.f (See Cautions.)


Excipients in commercially available drug preparations may have clinically important effects in some individuals; consult specific product labeling for details.

Please refer to the ASHP Drug Shortages Resource Center for information on shortages of one or more of these preparations.

* available from one or more manufacturer, distributor, and/or repackager by generic (nonproprietary) name

Beta Carotene


Dosage Forms


Brand Names




15 mg*

30 mg

60 mg*

Lumitene (with peanut oil and methyl and propyl parabens)


AHFS DI Essentials™. © Copyright 2019, Selected Revisions September 18, 2017. American Society of Health-System Pharmacists, Inc., 4500 East-West Highway, Suite 900, Bethesda, Maryland 20814.

† Use is not currently included in the labeling approved by the US Food and Drug Administration.


Only references cited for selected revisions after 1984 are available electronically.

100. Diaz MN, Frei B, Vita JA et al. Antioxidants and atherosclerotic heart disease. N Engl J Med. 1997; 337:408-16.

101. Stephens N. Anti-oxidant therapy for ischemic heart disease: where do we stand? Lancet. 1997; 349:1710-1.

102. Rowe PM. Beta-carotene takes a collective beating. Lancet. 1996; 347:249.

103. Greenberg ER, Baron JA, Karagas MR et al. Mortality associated with low plasma concentration of beta carotene and the effect of oral supplementation. JAMA. 1996; 275:699-703.

104. Rimm EB, Stampfer MJ, Ascherio A et al. Vitamin E consumption and the risk of coronary heart disease in men. N Engl J Med. 1993; 328:1450-6.

105. Rapola JM, Virtamo J, Haukka JK et al. Effect of vitamin E and beta carotene on the incidence of angina pectoris: a randomized, double-blind, controlled trial. JAMA. 1996; 275:693-8.

106. Omenn GS, Goodman GE, Thornquist MD et al. Effects of a combination of beta carotene and vitamin A on lung cancer and cardiovascular disease. N Engl J Med. 1996; 334:1150-5.

107. Hennekens CH, Buring JE, Manson JE et al. Lack of effect of long-term supplementation with beta carotene on the incidence of malignant neoplasms and cardiovascular disease. N Engl J Med. 1996; 334:1145-6.

108. Jha P, Flather M, Lonn E et al. The antioxidant vitamins and cardiovascular disease: a critical review of epidemiologic and clinical trial data. Ann Intern Med. 1995; 123:860-72.

109. Reaven PD, Khouw A, Beltz WF et al. Effect of dietary antioxidant combinations in humans: protection of LDL by vitamin E but not by beta-carotene. Arterioscler Thromb. 1993; 13:590-600.

110. Jialal I, Norkus EP, Cristol L et al. β-Carotene inhibits the oxidative modification of low-density lipoprotein. Biochim Biophys Acta. 1991; 1086:134-8.

111. Greenberg ER, Sporn MB. Antioxidant vitamins, cancer, and cardiovascular disease. N Engl J Med. 1996; 334:1189-90.

112. National Research Council, Committee on Diet and Health, Food and Nutrition Board, Commission on Life Sciences. Diet and health: implications for reducing chronic diseases. Washington, DC: National Academy of Press; 1989.

113. The Alpha-Tocopherol, Beta Carotene Cancer Prevention Study Group. The effect of vitamin E and beta carotene on the incidence of lung cancer and other cancers in male smokers. N Engl J Med. 1994; 330:1029-35.

114. Blot WJ, Li JY, Taylor PR et al. Nutrition intervention trials in China: supplementation with specific vitamin/mineral combinations, cancer incidence, and disease-specific mortality in the general population. J Natl Cancer Inst. 1993; 85:1483-92.

115. Blot WJ, Li JY, Taylor PR. Lung cancer and vitamin supplementation. N Engl J Med. 1994; 331:614.

116. Greenberg ER, Baron JA, Tosteson TR et al for the Polyp Prevention Study Group. A clinical trial of antioxidant vitamins to prevent colorectal adenoma. N Engl J Med. 1994; 331:141-7.

117. Greenberg ER, Baron JA, Stukel TA et al for the Skin Cancer Prevention Study Group. A clinical trial of beta carotene to prevent basal-cell and squamous-cell cancers of the skin. N Engl J Med. 1996; 323:789-95.

119. Roche Laboratories Inc. Xenical (orlistat) capsules prescribing information. Nutley, NJ; 1999 April.

120. Sjöström L, Rissanen A, Andersen T et al. Randomized placebo-controlled trial of orlistat for weight loss and prevention of weight regain in obese patients. Lancet. 1998; 352:167-72.

121. Davidson MH, Hauptman J, DiGirolamo M et al. Weight control and risk factor reduction in obese subjects treated for 2 years with orlistat. JAMA. 1999; 281:235-42.

122. Hollander PA, Elbein SC, Hirsch IB et al. Role of orlistat in the treatment of obese patients with type 2 diabetes: a 1-year randomized double-blind study. Diabetes Care. 1998; 21:1288-94.

123. Melia AT, Koss-Twardy SG, Zhi J. The effect of orlistat, an inhibitor of dietary fat absorption, on the absorption of vitamins A and E in healthy volunteers. J Clin Pharmacol. 1996; 36:647-53.

124. Zhi J, Melia AT, Koss-Twardy SG et al. The effect of orlistat, an inhibitor of dietary fat absorption, on the pharmacokinetics of β-carotene in healthy volunteers. J Clin Pharmacol. 1996; 36:152-9.

125. Roche Laboratories Inc. Xenical (orlistat) capsules patient information. Nutley, NJ; 1999 April.

126. James WP, Avenell A, Broom J et al. A one-year trial to assess the value of orlistat in the management of obesity. Int J Obes Relat Metab Disord. 1997; 21(Suppl 3):S24-30.

127. Roche Laboratories Inc, Nutley, NJ: Personal communication on Orlistat 56:40.

128. Age-Related Eye Disease Study Research Group. A randomized, placebo-controlled, clinical trial of high-dose supplementation with vitamins C and E, beta carotene, and zinc for age-related macular degeneration and vision loss. Arch Ophthalmol. 2001; 119:1417-36.

129. Omenn GS, Goodman GE, Thornquist MD et al. Effects of a combination of beta carotene and vitamin A on lung cancer and cardiovascular disease. N Engl J Med. 1996; 334:1150-5.

130. Jampol LM. Antioxidants, zinc, and age-related macular degeneration. Arch Opthalmol. 2001; 119-1533-4. Editorial.

a. AHFS Drug Information 2007. McEvoy GK, ed. Beta carotene. Bethesda, MD: American Society of Health-System Pharmacists; 2007: 3618-9.

b. Briggs GG, Freeman RK, Yaffe SJ. Drugs in pregnancy and lactation, 7th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins; 2005:154.

c. Food and Drug Administration. Food Labeling: Health Claims; Antioxidant Vitamin A and Beta-Carotene and the Risk in Adults of Atherosclerosis, Coronary Heart Disease, and Certain Cancers. Final rule. [21 CFR Part 101] Fed Regist. 1998; 63:34092-97.

d. Department of Health and Human Services, Food and Drug Administration. Part 101---Food Labeling. Subpart C---Specific Nutrition Labeling Requirement and Guidelines. Sec 101.36---Nutrition Labeling of dietary supplements. (21 CFR (4-1-03 Ed.)). 2003:79-91.

e. Food and Nutrition Board. Dietary reference intakes for vitamin C, vitamin E, selenium and carotenoids. A report of the Panel on Dietary Antioxidants and Related Compounds. Washington DC, National Academy Press: 2000;25-72.

f. Tishcon Corp. Lumitene (beta carotene) capsules prescribing information. Westbury, NY; Undated.

g. World Health Organization. WHO report on vitamin and mineral requirements in human nutrition. Vitamin A. Geneva; WHO. 2004:17–44.

h. Now Natural Foods. Beta Carotene softgels (25,000 IU as pro-Vitamin A 15 mg, Vitamin E 5 IU and Lecithin 10 mg) product information. Bloomingdale, IL; Undated.

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