Carrots could stop cancer

February 4, 2000

Eat your carrots - and oranges. Scientists have found indications that beta-carotene, the substance that gives carrots their orange colour, may protect against cancer by helping to repair DNA.

Preliminary results from a study by Sian Astley and colleagues at the Institute of Food Research in Norwich show that a novel process may be behind the observation that eating fruit and vegetables provides an element of protection against tumour formation.

Scientists have long suspected that beta-carotene and other carotenoids were in some way interfering with the body's cellular chemistry to prevent damage to DNA that can turn a healthy cell cancerous.

Dr Astley's work has revealed the first signs that it might also be prompting the repair of damaged DNA. Her team tested the DNA from 62 human volunteers, some of whom were given a betacarotene supplement daily, and others who ate cooked and mashed carrots.

In those given the supplement, the number of single-strand breaks - a common form of DNA damage that is not too problematic for a cell but fairly straightforward to test for - started to decrease within four hours of being exposed to a harmful chemical.

A less pronounced effect occurred for those eating the carrots.

"It appears that carotenoids are capable of actively encouraging the cell to repair certain types of damage," said Dr Astley.

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