(NaturalNews) Picture this: a chemical is discovered that has amazing health-protecting powers. In fact, if a person consumes enough of the potent life guarding compound, his or her chances of dying from heart disease, cancer or any other reason will plummet for many, many years into the future.
Sound like a futuristic drug out of a sci fi story? It's not. Instead, it's a natural compound available right here and right now -- the antioxidant alpha-carotene, produced by plants.
In a large study of over 15,000 adults, Centers for Disease Control (CDC) scientists found that high blood levels of alpha-carotene were associated with a significantly reduced risk of dying over a 14 year period. The research was just published in the on-line edition of the Archives of Internal Medicine.
There are several forms of carotenoids, including beta-carotene and lycopene as well as alpha-carotene. Alpha-carotene is very similar to beta-carotene but research has shown it may be more effective at preventing or blocking the growth of cancer cells in the brain, liver and skin, according to the CDC scientists.
"Moreover, results from a population-based case-control study of the association between the consumption of fruits and vegetables and risk of lung cancer suggest that consumption of yellow-orange (carrots, sweet potatoes or pumpkin and winter squash) and dark-green (broccoli, green beans, green peas, spinach, turnips greens, collards and leaf lettuce) vegetables, which have a high alpha-carotene content, was more strongly associated with a decreased risk of lung cancer than was consumption of all other types of vegetables," the authors of the study noted in their paper.
Chaoyang Li, M.D., Ph.D., of the CDC and colleagues investigated the relationship between alpha-carotene and the risk of death among 15,318 adults, all age 20 or older. The research subjects were participants in the Third National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey Follow-up Study and all had medical exams and gave blood samples between 1988 and 1994. Then researchers followed the study volunteers through 2006 to find out which of them died and how.
By the end of the study, 3,810 participants were no longer alive -- but the risk for dying was far lower in the people who had the highest levels of alpha-carotene in their blood. In fact, as the level of alpha-carotene went up, the risk of dying went down dramatically.
For example, compared to people with blood alpha-carotene levels between 0 and 1 micrograms per deciliter, those with concentrations of alpha-carotene between 4 and 5 micrograms per deciliter had a 27 percent lower risk of dying. And when blood levels of the antioxidant reached 9 micrograms or higher, there was stunning, almost 40 percent lowered chance of death.
What's more, higher alpha-carotene concentrations were linked with a lower risk of dying not only from cardiovascular disease or cancer, and from all other causes. The researchers noted in their paper that these data support increasing fruit and vegetable consumption as a way of preventing premature death and suggest a need for more clinical research into the health benefits of alpha-carotene.