Connie K. Ho for redOrbit.com — Your Universe Online
According to the Mayo Clinic, beta carotene is a member of the carotenoid family of chemical compounds, which are fat-soluble compounds that are highly pigmented and found in a variety of fruits, grains, oils and vegetables (especially carrots). The body converts beta carotene to vitamin A (retinol), and vitamin A helps provide eye health and a strong immune system as well as healthy skin and mucus membranes.
In order to better understand beta carotene, the team of investigators utilized “big data” to observe interactions between gene variants that were previously linked with a higher risk for type 2 diabetes along with blood levels of substances previously related to type 2 diabetes risk.
“Type-2 diabetes affects about 15 percent of the world’s population, and the numbers are increasing,” explained the study´s senior author Dr. Atul Butte, an associate professor of systems medicine in pediatrics at Stanford University Medical Center, in a prepared statement. “Government health authorities estimate that one-third of all children born in the United States since the year 2000 will get this disease at some point in their lives, possibly knocking decades off their life expectancies.”
The findings of the study, featured in the online edition of the journal Human Genetics, highlight possible ways to determine whether beta carotene and gamma tocopherol are, respectively, “protective and harmful” or simply “markers” in the blood that are indicative of some other, truly harmful factor.
With the risk of diabetes influenced by beta carotene´s and gamma tocopherol´s interaction with a common gene variant, the researchers became more interested in studying the protein SLC30A4 and its impact on the disease. The scientists believe that SLC30A4 is abundant in the islet cells of the pancreas which produce insulin where it helps the cells to import zinc. The transport of zinc causes a release of insulin by the pancreas which is then taken up by muscle, liver and fat tissue. This, in turn, offsets the buildup of glucose in the blood and ultimately prevents the development of type 2 diabetes.
“While plenty of genetic risk factors for type-2 diabetes have been found,” continued Butte in the statement. “None of them taken alone, and not even all of them taken together, comes close to accounting for the prevalence of type-2 diabetes.”
The scientists plan to continue their work in this field and are interested in conducting additional research where lab mice are given purified beta carotene and gamma tocopherol. They believe that further research will allow them to determine whether these two substances are necessary in preventing or quickening the development of type 2 diabetes. Furthermore, these studies could help scientists understand how the substances impact the production or performance of the protein.
“We can’t say, based on just this study, that ‘vitamin E is bad for you,'” concluded the study´s first author Chirag Patel, who was previously a graduate student in Butte’s lab and is currently a postdoctoral scholar at the Stanford Prevention Research Center.