With a growing appreciation globally for products that are ‘natural’ and ‘Australian’, BASF’s natural beta-carotene can well and truly meet this demand. This naturally occurring beta-carotene is derived from algae, Dunaliella salina, grown in open-air seawater lagoons at two BASF sites—in Whyalla (South Australia) and in Hutt Lagoon (Western Australia).
In these lagoons, Dunaliella salina is exposed to the full brunt of solar ultraviolet (UV) radiation and has evolved a special mechanism for defending itself from the radiation’s damaging effects. As a protective mechanism to UV stress, the algae produces carotenoids, predominantly beta-carotene, which is then stored in lipid droplets within the algaes’ chloroplasts.
What Is Beta-Carotene?
Beta-carotene is a naturally occurring, red-orange pigment found abundantly in foods like carrots, pumpkins as well as sweet potatoes and is the best known pro-vitamin A of all carotenoids. It is also traditionally considered to be the most important carotenoid in the human diet.
Beta-carotene can act as a filter of UV light, is an antioxidant and a modulator of cell growth that helps protect the body against the most common non-communicable diseases like cardiovascular disease, diabetes and cancer.
Delving Deeper Into Beta-Carotene From Algae
‘Natural’ beta-carotene, such as that found in many fruits and vegetables or grown from algae contains a different mix of isomers compared to those produced synthetically. Specifically, algae-based beta-carotene contains almost equal amounts of trans and cis geometrical isomers of beta-carotene, and in particular the 9-cis isomer.
In contrast, beta-carotene from synthesis or fermentation only contains trans isomers. Isomers refer to molecules that have the same formula but a different shape, thus resulting in different properties.
The cis isomers of beta-carotene occur naturally in fruits, vegetables and algae; they can be formed during food preparation upon heating; during storage of supplements and during digestion in the human body. Considerable amounts of cis-isomers of beta-carotene are also present in various human and animal tissues.
Observations support the suggestion that beta-carotene isomers may possess isomer-specific biological actions. All-trans and 9-cis beta-carotene, in particular, have received the most attention because both are involved in gene regulation. While all-trans isomers have a higher potency in terms of vitamin-A activity, 9-cis beta-carotene appears to have better antioxidant activity and specific benefits in heart, eye, and skin.
9-Cis Beta-Carotene For Superior Antioxidant Activity
Studies from bench-top and animal experiments indicate 9-cis beta-carotene may be a better antioxidant than the all-trans isomer. In a human trial with asthma patients, supplementation with algae beta-carotene helped to prevent post-exercise symptoms. Antioxidant benefits of 9-cis beta-carotene were also shown in humans, although not yet in direct comparison with all-trans beta-carotene.
Thirty-four patients received a week of oral supplementation with a placebo or 64 mg/day beta-carotene. All patients given placebo showed a significant post-exercise reduction of more than 15 percent in their forced expiratory volume in one second. Of the 38 patients who received a daily dose of 64 mg of beta-carotene for one week, 53 percent were protected against exercise-induced airway symptoms.
The authors concluded that the results indicate that a daily dose of beta-carotene from an algae source exerts protection in some patients, most probably through antioxidant effects.
Nutritional Solution For Sun Protection
UV radiation exerts a number of detrimental effects to human skin. The most familiar one is an acute sunburn reaction, which is a reddening (erythema) and swelling (edema) of the skin developing within minutes or hours after excessive exposure to sunlight and tanning beds. Chronic exposure to UV radiation causes long-term skin damage like skin cancer and premature skin ageing.
While skin cancer is mainly due to exposure to UVB light (290-320 nm), exposure to UVA light (320-400 nm) leads to premature skin ageing, which manifests as fine lines, wrinkles, dark spots and, in severe cases, precancerous lesions. UVA is less potent than UVB in causing acute skin responses but penetrates to the middle skin layer (dermis) and causes damage to the area where new skin cells are created.
Avoiding too much sun exposure and topical application of sunscreens prior to exposure represent the established strategies for protection against sunburn and skin damage. In recent years, however, providing additional nutritional protection of the skin has been discussed and among the substances that are being suggested for such a nutritional approach is beta-carotene.
Beta-carotene is a potent biological antioxidant. It is a strong singlet oxygen quencher in in vitro studies and experiments in animal models indicate that beta-carotene may provide skin photo protection in vivo.
UVB induced skin erythema is due to the formation of reactive oxygen species in irradiated skin and the antioxidative nature of beta-carotene is able to stop free radicals that otherwise would damage DNA, proteins and lipids. Studies show that oral intake beta-carotene accumulates in the skin and in addition to antioxidative effects has other photo-protective effects in high concentrations by absorbing and/or reflecting visible and UV light.
How UVA and UVB from the sun penetrate the skin's layers.
In a meta-analysis by Kopcke et al. (2008), the authors looked at human supplementation studies on dietary protection against sunburn using beta-carotene.
The authors concluded the following:
- · Photo-protection induced by oral beta-carotene supplementation is always present homogenously in the whole skin compared to topical application which requires re-application and the worry of “missing a spot”;
- · Protection using dietary supplementation of beta-carotene required a minimum of 10 weeks of supplementation and for every additional month of supplementation, the degree of protection increased;
- · Nutritional supplementation is complementary to topical application of sunscreens for photo-protection and should be combined.
Notably, three of the seven studies highlighted in the meta-analysis used algae beta-carotene, and these studies showed the strongest results favouring the use of beta-carotene supplementation over a placebo in sunburn prevention.
Other Health Benefits—Heart Health And Eye Health
Atherosclerosis is a condition in most cardiovascular diseases, where the walls of the arteries become thick and stiff because of fatty deposit accumulation. In experimental and clinical studies, algae source 9-cis beta-carotene had positive effects on heart health. In arterial walls, it can inhibit the formation of foam cells from macrophages, which is a key process in atherosclerosis.
This was shown in an experimental study in mice using beta-carotene with 50 percent all-trans and 50 percent 9-cis isomers. Feeding algae extract increased beta-carotene levels in plasma and macrophages (both all-trans and 9-cis isomers) and it inhibited formation of pro-atherogenic foam cells.
In the same study, pure 9-cis beta-carotene as well as an extract of algae powder inhibited foam cell formation while pure all-trans beta-carotene failed to have an effect. Other carotenoids present in the algae extract including phytoene and phytofluene, lutein, zeaxanthin, and alpha-carotene were tested in comparison but were not as effective as 9-cis betacarotene or the algae extract.
In another mice study, researchers found that a diet containing natural carotenoids, rich in 9-cis beta-carotene, had the potential to inhibit atherosclerosis progression, particularly in a high-fat diet regime.
In patients with cardiovascular disease, 9-cis betacarotene in combination with drug therapy improved HDL-cholesterol levels. This was observed by Shaish et al. (2006) where 20 fibrate-treated men with plasma HDL-cholesterol levels below 40 mg/dl were given 60 mg beta-carotene/day, containing all-trans and 9-cis betacarotene at a one to one ratio. The results show that a combination treatment of fibrate plus 9-cis beta-carotene amplifies the effect of the drug on HDL-cholesterol levels.
Several studies have suggested that 9-cis beta-carotene, as a precursor of 9-cis-retinal and all-trans-retinal, could also have therapeutic applications in vision loss. In patients with retinitis pigmentosa, the leading cause of incurable inherited blindness in the developed world, algae source 9-cis beta-carotene improved eye (retina) function which was shown in a clinical trial by Rotenstreich et al. (2013).
The authors concluded that 9-cis beta-carotene may represent a new therapeutic approach for some patients with retinitis pigmentosa. This finding is consistent with recent reports of significant functional and structural improvements after treatment in mouse-model experimental studies.
For retinal dystrophy leading to night blindness, in another small human trial by Rotenstreich et al. (2010) there was an improvement in visual function and structure after supplementation of 60mg/day algae beta-carotene containing an equal ratio of trans to cis isomers for 90 days.
All of the subjects showed significant improvements in peripheral visual field and a highly significant improvement in rod cell recovery rates. While the precise mechanism of the observed beneficial effect has not yet been established, it indicates potential for algae beta-carotene therapy in yet another area of eye health.
Betatene—BASF’s Truly Natural Mixed Carotenoids
Sourced from marine algae and grown in saltwater lagoons in Australia, the carotenoids are harvested free of chemical solvents, and are carefully extracted and formulated using natural plant oils.
Betatene is cultivated using the most natural manufacturing process of a beta-carotene without human interference on its carotenoid profile or mix. Betatene provides a unique blend of carotenoids similar to that found in fruits and vegetables. While beta-carotene is the dominant carotenoid, also naturally present are alpha-carotene, lutein, zeaxanthin and crytoxanthin.
Approved in all major markets and meeting all standards, Betatene contains up to 90 percent beta-carotene and thereof 37 percent 9-cis beta-carotene (best ratio 63:37). It is available as cold water dispersible (CWD) powders for beverage applications, oily dispersions for application in food and soft capsules as well as direct compressible (DC) powders for tablet and hard gelatin capsule applications.
In addition, Betatene is also safe for use as a colour in many foods, and has shown excellent stability in target food and beverage applications. With decades of use history, proven science-based findings and produced under BASF’s highest quality standards, this well-known natural ingredient with its wide spectrum of health benefits can bring better well-being and improve health of consumers all over the world.
Note: This is a sponsored article by BASF.