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Safety evaluation of synthetic β-carotene

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Author: Woutersen, R.A. · Wolterbeek, A.P.M. · Appel, M.J. · Berg, H. van den · Goldbohm, R.A. · Feron, V.J.
Institution: Centraal Instituut voor Voedingsonderzoek TNO
Source:Critical Reviews in Toxicology, 6, 29, 515-542
Identifier: 235349
Keywords: Toxicology · Absorption · Cancer prevention · Distribution · Lung cancer · Toxicity · beta carotene · cancer risk · carcinogenicity · chronic toxicity · drug absorption · drug distribution · drug safety · drug transport · genotoxicity · human · nonhuman · reproductive toxicity · review · toxicity testing · Absorption · Animals · Antioxidants · beta Carotene · Cell Transformation, Neoplastic · Chemoprevention · Drug Interactions · Humans · Intervention Studies · Lung Neoplasms · Mice · Rats · Rats, Sprague-Dawley · Skin Neoplasms · Smoking · Animalia


The safety of β-carotene was reassessed by evaluating the relevant literature on the beneficial and adverse effects of β-carotene on cancer and, in particular, by evaluating the results of toxicity studies. β- Carotene appeared neither genotoxic nor reprotoxic or teratogenic, and no signs of organ toxicity have been found in subacute, subchronic, or chronic oral toxicity studies in experimental animals receiving doses of up to 1000 mg/day β-carotene per kg body weight via the diet. Synthetic β-carotene did not exert any carcinogenic effect in Sprague-Dawley rats or in CD1 mice. An enhanced risk of lung cancer was found in two human intervention studies. Although dose and (timing of) exposure, smoking status, and imbalance of antioxidant defense have been recognized as potential factors accounting for the outcome of these studies, a conclusive explanation has not yet been found. It is concluded that exposure to β-carotene resulting in mean plasma concentrations of no more than 2.2 μmol/l (1.2 μg/ml) is safe to the general population. By contrast, in heavy smokers higher plasma concentrations may be associated with a higher lung cancer risk.