A new Harvard study has identified beta carotene, the deep orange pigment in pumpkins, sweet potatoes and carrots, as a potential agent against heart disease.
In the 10-year study of 22,000 male physicians, Harvard investigators have been giving high doses of beta carotene mainly to test its ability to help prevent cancer.
But recently researchers looked at a small group of men who had entered the study with signs of heart disease, such as chest pain. Surprisingly, they found that beta carotene in such men seemed to slow down the artery-clogging process leading to heart attacks and strokes.
In fact, such men taking 50 milligrams (about 80,000 I.U.s) of beta carotene every other day for six years suffered only half as many heart attacks and strokes as similar men who took a placebo -- a harmless "sugar pill."
The theory is beta carotene acts as an antioxidant to neutralize bad-type LDL-cholesterol, helping keep arteries clear.
Experts warn against taking beta carotene as a "quick fix," instead of quitting smoking and cutting back on fat. They also advise getting beta carotene from food.
-- Jean Carper
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