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Cryptoxanthin, also known as beta-cryptoxanthin, is a member of the carotenoid family, a group of flavonoids that provide color and flavor to fruits and vegetables. Carotenoids are proven antioxidants, and their role in protecting the body from free-radical damage has been well established. Although some carotenoids, such as alpha-carotene, beta-carotene, and lycopene, have been the subject of exhaustive research, scientists are just beginning to explore the possible benefits provided by cryptoxanthin.

Like alpha- and beta-carotene, cryptoxanthin is a powerful antioxidant that can be converted to active retinol, or vitamin A, in the body. Vitamin A is crucial to the maintenance of healthy vision, reproduction, and body tissues. Recent studies have shown that cryptoxanthin also plays an important role in preventing many forms of cancer.

A study published in the January 2004 issue of Cancer Epidemiology Biomarkers and Prevention reported that people with diets high in cryptoxanthin were 30 percent less likely to develop lung cancer. A lack of cryptoxanthin in the diet appears to leave the body vulnerable to other types of cancer as well. Preliminary studies also suggest that women with cervical cancer and patients with colon cancer have low levels of cryptoxanthin. Researchers theorize that cryptoxanthin protects against cancer both by neutralizing free radicals and by stimulating the RB gene, a gene that prevents cells from becoming cancerous.

Cryptoxanthin may protect against other diseases associated with aging, including heart disease, skin cancer, prostate cancer, and arthritis. Like other carotenoids, cryptoxanthin almost certainly plays a key role in keeping the eyes healthy and preventing against age-related macular degeneration (AMD) and cataracts. Research also indicates that carotenoids may play a role in the prevention of many other serious health conditions, including Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS), asthma, chronic yeast infection, and infertility.

Oranges, papaya, peaches, and tangerines all contain a lot of cryptoxanthin. Other sources include red bell peppers, cilantro, corn, and watermelon. People that regularly smoke or drink, have a low intake of fruits and vegetables, or who follow a low-fat diet may want to consider a carotenoid supplement. Cryptoxanthin is a fat-soluble substance, and needs to be taken with fat to be properly absorbed by the body. Consequently, certain conditions that reduce the body’s ability to absorb fat, such as pancreatic enzyme deficiency, Crohn’s disease, celiac sprue, cystic fibrosis, surgical removal of part or all of the stomach, gall bladder disease, and liver disease, may lead to a carotenoid deficiency. If you have any of these conditions, you may also want to consider taking a carotenoid supplement.

Cryptoxanthin is available in tablet, capsule, and softgel combination carotenoid supplements, which are available at most drugstores and health food stores. Taking cryptoxanthin along with beta-carotene is a good idea, as beta-carotene increases its absorption. Many of these carotenoid supplements are marketed as supplements that promote healthy vision or normal sleep patterns. Cryptoxanthin is also included in many of the new “green drinks” on the market, which are high in other carotenoids as well.

In 1996 a major study, known as the Beta-Carotene and Retinol Efficacy Trial (CARET), showed that smokers who took beta-carotene supplements had higher rates of lung cancer. Because of this finding, the National Academy of Sciences cautions against taking high doses of carotenoid supplements, except as a method for preventing vitamin A deficiency. Smokers and anyone with lung disease should probably avoid carotenoid supplements altogether.

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