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AICR Food Facts  >  Foods That Fight Cancer

Carrots

This content was last updated on December 10, 2019

The Cancer Research

Carrots’ cancer-fighting potential comes from being a non-starchy vegetable as well as a source of carotenoids and other phytochemicals. Beta-carotene is the carotenoid that has received the most attention, but research into carrot’s other compounds, and carrots as a whole food, is underway.

Interpreting the data

After a systematic review of the global scientific literature, AICR/WCRF analyzed how eating habits affect the risk of developing cancer.

  • Evidence categorized as “probable” means there is strong research showing a causal relationship to cancer—either decreasing or increasing the risk. The research must include quality human studies that meet specific criteria and biological explanations for the findings.
  • A probable judgement is strong enough to justify recommendations..
  • There is probable evidence that a diet high in non-starchy vegetables and fruits DECREASES the risk of:
    • Mouth, pharynx, nasopharynx, larynx, esophagus, lung, stomach, and colorectal (aerodigestive) cancers.

• Evidence categorized as “limited suggestive” means results are generally consistent in overall conclusions. But because there’s not enough evidence or some limitations in the research, it’s rarely strong enough to justify using it as a basis for recommendations to reduce the risk of cancer.

  • Limited evidence suggests that non-starchy vegetables may also DECREASE the risk of:
    • estrogen receptor-negative (ER-) breast cancer
    • bladder cancer.
  • Limited evidence suggests that foods containing beta-carotene may DECREASE the risk of:
    • Lung cancer
  • Limited evidence suggests that foods containing carotenoids may DECREASE the risk of:
    • Lung and estrogen receptor-negative (ER-) breast cancers.
Sourec: AICR/WCRF. Diet, Nutrition, Physical Activity and Cancer: A Global Perspective, 2018.

Ongoing Areas of Investigation

  • Laboratory Research
    • Carotenoids act as antioxidants themselves and stimulate the body’s own antioxidant defenses, decreasing free radical damage to DNA that can lead to cancer. Very high levels in cell studies, however, can have an opposite effect, promoting damage from oxidation.
      • Beta-carotene and alpha-carotene promote cell-to-cell communication that helps control cell growth. These carotenoids also increase carcinogen-metabolizing enzymes and stimulate self-destruction of abnormal cells. The body uses beta-carotene and alpha-carotene to form vitamin A, which helps protect against cancer through the immune system and expression of genes that regulate cell growth.
    • In cell and animal studies, phenolic acids (such as chlorogenic acid) increase cells’ antioxidant and anti-inflammatory defenses against damage that could lead to cancer. Emerging evidence in animal studies suggests they may also improve glucose metabolism and decrease insulin resistance, and alter the gut microbiota (microbes living in the colon), creating an environment in the body less likely to support cancer.
    • Polyacetylenes (such as fulcarinol in carrots) decrease cancer cell growth and increase cancer cell death in cell and animal studies.
  • Human Studies

    People who eat more vegetables and fruits have a lower risk of a wide range of cancers. This probably reflects combined protection from many different nutrients and compounds they contain.

    In population studies, higher blood levels of total carotenoids and of beta-carotene are linked with a lower risk of overall cancer. Blood levels may more accurately reflect the consumption of carotenoid-rich foods than diet questionnaires, and they include differences in how much is absorbed from food. However, it may be that the lower cancer risk is seen because blood levels of these compounds are recognized as signals of greater overall vegetable and fruit consumption.

    • Lung cancer: Population studies link higher dietary and blood levels of beta-carotene or total carotenoids with a lower risk of lung cancer. Larger studies now show protection less clearly than earlier studies, and the AICR/WCRF Third Expert Report categorizes this link as Limited Suggestive. Additional research is needed.
    • Breast cancer: Some population studies also link higher blood levels of carotenoids (including beta-carotene and alpha-carotene) in the diet or blood to lower risk of breast cancer, mainly for estrogen receptor-negative (ER-) forms. The AICR/WCRF Third Expert Report categorized this link as Limited Suggestive. It is possible that an effect of carotenoids on ER-positive (ER+) tumors is simply masked by the hormonal influences that dominate risk of ER+ breast cancer. Additional research is needed.

    These research findings do not support the idea of “the more, the better”. Beta-carotene in high-dose supplements increases lung cancer risk when taken by people who smoke or used to smoke tobacco, according to evidence rated convincing in the AICR/WCRF Third Expert Report. The big picture of overall research on prostate cancer shows higher dietary, supplement and blood levels of beta-carotene unlikely to have any substantial effect, according to the AICR/WCRF Third Expert Report.

  • Tips for Selection and Preparation
    Selection:
    • Choose smooth, firm carrots. Some carrots may have cracks as a result of growing or storage conditions. Make sure to wash all your carrots thoroughly and cut out the damaged areas.
    • Green tops, if attached, should be feathery and not wilted.
    • Deeper orange color indicates higher beta-carotene content; purple carrots indicate anythocyanins.
    Preparation Ideas:
    • Cooking brings out their natural sweetness and heat does not destroy their alpha- and beta-carotene.
    • For better absorption of these carotenoids, chop, grate, purée or heat the carrots and eat with a small amount of fat, whether added to carrots or from other foods.
    • Stir grated or matchstick-cut carrots into muffin batter, spaghetti sauce and soups.

References

  1. Borel P, Desmarchelier C. Bioavailability of Fat-Soluble Vitamins and Phytochemicals in Humans: Effects of Genetic Variation. Annual Review of Nutrition. 2018;38(1):69-96.
  2. World Cancer Research Fund / American Institute for Cancer Research. Continuous Update Project Expert Report 2018. Wholegrains, vegetables and fruit and the risk of cancer. Available at: dietandcancerreport.org.
  3. Bohn T. Carotenoids, Chronic Disease Prevention and Dietary Recommendations. International Journal for Vitamin and Nutrition Research. 2017;87(3-4):121-130.
  4. Kaulmann A, Bohn T. Carotenoids, inflammation, and oxidative stress–implications of cellular signaling pathways and relation to chronic disease prevention. Nutr Res. 2014;34(11):907-929.
  5. Bouayed J, Bohn T. Exogenous antioxidants – Double-edged swords in cellular redox state: Health beneficial effects at physiologic doses versus deleterious effects at high doses. Oxid Med Cell Longev. 2010;3(4):228-237.
  6. Del Rio D, Rodriguez-Mateos A, Spencer JP, Tognolini M, Borges G, Crozier A. Dietary (poly)phenolics in human health: structures, bioavailability, and evidence of protective effects against chronic diseases. Antioxid Redox Signal. 2013;18(14):1818-1892.
  7. Tajik N, Tajik M, Mack I, Enck P. The potential effects of chlorogenic acid, the main phenolic components in coffee, on health: a comprehensive review of the literature. Eur J Nutr. 2017;56(7):2215-2244.
  8. Villa-Rodriguez JA, Ifie I, Gonzalez-Aguilar GA, Roopchand DE. The Gastrointestinal Tract as Prime Site for Cardiometabolic Protection by Dietary Polyphenols. Advances in Nutrition. 2019;10(6):999-1011.
  9. Kobaek-Larsen M, Baatrup G, KhataeiNotabi M, et al. Dietary Polyacetylenic Oxylipins Falcarinol and Falcarindiol Prevent Inflammation and Colorectal Neoplastic Transformation: A Mechanistic and Dose-Response Study in A Rat Model. Nutrients. 2019;11(9):2223.
  10. Ahmad T, Cawood M, Iqbal Q, et al. Phytochemicals in Daucus carota and Their Health Benefits-Review Article. Foods. 2019;8(9):424.
  11. Aune D, Keum N, Giovannucci E, et al. Dietary intake and blood concentrations of antioxidants and the risk of cardiovascular disease, total cancer, and all-cause mortality: a systematic review and dose-response meta-analysis of prospective studies. Am J Clin Nutr. 2018;108(5):1069-1091.
  12. Farvid MS, Chen WY, Rosner BA, Tamimi RM, Willett WC, Eliassen AH. Fruit and vegetable consumption and breast cancer incidence: Repeated measures over 30 years of follow-up. International Journal of Cancer. 2019;144:1496-1510.
  13. World Cancer Research Fund/American Institute of Cancer Research. Continuous Update Project Expert Report 2018. Other dietary exposures and the risk of cancer. Available at dietandcancerreport.com.
  14. Moran NE, Mohn ES, Hason N, Erdman JW, Jr, Johnson EJ. Intrinsic and Extrinsic Factors Impacting Absorption, Metabolism, and Health Effects of Dietary Carotenoids. Advances in Nutrition. 2018;9(4):465-492.
  15. Mashurabad PC, Palika R, Jyrwa YW, Bhaskarachary K, Pullakhandam R. Dietary fat composition, food matrix and relative polarity modulate the micellarization and intestinal uptake of carotenoids from vegetables and fruits. J Food Sci Technol. 2017;54(2):333-341.
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