This site uses cookies to store information on your computer. Learn more x


Providing perspectives on recent research into vitamins and nutritionals


Low Carotenoid Intakes, Genetics, and Breast Cancer Risk in Women

By Michael McBurney

Carotenoids in fruit and vegetables have been linked with lower cancer risks. The main carotenoids  in our diets are α-carotene, β-carotene, lycopene, β-cryptoxanthin, lutein and zeaxanthin. These carotenoids are antioxidants, helping protect DNA against oxidative damage, and supporting immune function.

Wang and colleagues (2014) examined the relationship between carotenoid intake and breast cancer among Chinese women. They compared dietary intake data obtained with a validated Food Frequency Questionnaire (FFQ) among 561 cancer cases and 561 age- (5 y intervals) and residence-matched controls. Comparing highest and lowest quintiles of intake, the adjusted odds ratio (OR) for breast cancer were 0·38 (95 % CI 0·26, 0·52) for β-cryptoxanthin,  0·49 (95 % CI 0·34, 0·71) for lutein/zeaxanthin, 0·54 (95 % CI 0·38, 0·78) for β-carotene, and 0·61 (95 % CI 0·43, 0·88) for α-carotene.

Of course, dietary intakes are not the best tool to assess nutritional status or to elucidate nutrient-disease relationships. This is particularly true for carotenoids because genetics may affect intestinal absorption of and metabolism of carotenoids. To test the hypothesis that genetic variants in carotenoid-metabolizing enzymes may affect plasma responses, Wang et al (2013) applied cluster analysis to examine individual responses in plasma carotenoid concentrations. They found individual plasma responses to standardized carotenoid-rich beverages were correlated with specific genetic variants of β-carotene 15, 15’-monooxgenase 1. Basically, some people need to consume more carotenoids to achieve the same plasma concentrations  found in others.

The really important observation is found in the table below. This relationship between carotenoid intake and breast cancer risk was found in Chinese women with a much higher intake of fruit and vegetables. In the US, and many other developed countries, carotenoid intakes are extremely low. It is highly unlikely, regardless of genetics, that the average US woman has optimal carotenoid concentrations in her body.


Chinese Women (48y)

American Women (40-49y)

β-cryptoxanthin (µg/d)



Lutein+zeaxanthin (µg/d)



β-carotene (µg/d)



α-carotene (µg/d)




Wang et al (2014)

What We Eat in America, 2009-2010

Bottom line: Nutrient-disease relationships exist in populations with suboptimal micronutrient status. Don’t delay, increase your carotenoid status.

Main Citation

Wang L, Li B, Pan M-X, Mo X-F, Chen Y-M, Zhang C-X. Specific carotenoid intake is inversely associated with risk of breast cancer among Chinese women. 2014 Br J Nutr doi: 10.1017/S000711451300411X

Other Citation

Wang TTY, Edwards AJ, Clevidence BA. Strong and weak plasma responses to dietary carotenoids identified by cluster analysis and linked to beta-carotene 15, 15’-monoxygenase 1 single nucleotide polymorphisms. 2013 J Nutr Biochem doi: 10.1016/j.jnutbio.2013.01.001