It is true that eating too many carrots, drinking a lot of carrot juice, or taking excessive amounts of beta-carotene supplements can actually turn your skin a yellow to orange color. This condition is known as carotenemia. It occurs because the carotene is fat-soluble and when you consume large amounts of it, it builds up in the blood and then becomes deposited in the skin, mainly in the stratum corneum and subcutaneous fat layer. The discoloration can occur on the palms of the hands and the soles of the feet. The oral mucosa can also be affected. The condition can appear similar to jaundice. However, unlike jaundice, the whites of the eyes, or sclera, are not affected. 1Passeron, Thierry, and Jean-Paul Ortonne. Atlas of Pigmentary Disorders. Adis, 2015.
Is Too Much Beta-Carotene Dangerous?
Beta-carotene is a precursor to vitamin A in the body. However, excess beta-carotene does not lead to vitamin A toxicity and carotenemia is considered harmless. Although carrots are often implicated, high levels of other carotenoid pigments could also lead to similar discoloration and many other foods contain these pigments. Even oranges could be over-consumed and it can also be caused by eating too much carotenoid containing squash. There was even a case, reported in 1960 of a variant of carotenemia, lycoponemia, caused by a prolonged and excessive consumption of tomato juice leading to a build-up of lycopene (carotenoid pigment in tomatoes).
The Food and Drug Administration considers beta-carotene GRAS, or “generally recognized as safe” when used as a food colorant or as a dietary supplement.
How Many Carrots are Too Many?
However, over-enthusiastic reporting about its positive health effects, and about the health benefits of eating carrots, have caused some individuals to over-indulge to the point of developing this carotenemia discoloration. A 30-mg dose of beta-carotene daily, or four carrots per day, for four to six weeks, has been known to induce carotenemia. Beta-carotene has been included in some sun-tanning pills, due to this effect. Whether or not high intake of beta-carotene is actually harmless is still under debate. Increased consumption has been associated, in one study, to increased occurrence of lung cancer. 2Lutz, Carroll A., et al. Nutrition and Diet Therapy. F. A. Davis Company, 2015. 3 Brown, Judith E. Everywoman’s Guide to Nutrition. University of Minnesota Press, 1991.
The skin discoloration from carotenemia tends to occur first, as above, on the palms and soles, as well as the nasolabial folds, the tip of the nose, and the forehead. If excess intake of beta-carotene is continued, it will spread to the entire body.
Other Causes of Carotenemia
It is actually possible for carotenemia to occur even in the absence of excess intake of beta-carotene. The major carriers of carotene in the blood are β-lipoproteins. Certain conditions can cause elevated levels of β-lipoproteins and thus lead to similar skin discoloration. These are hypothyroidism, hyperlipidemias, diabetes, anorexia nervosa, and nephrotic syndrome. There are also rare congenital metabolism problems that can interfere with the conversion of carotene to vitamin A, causing carotene to build up and induce carotenemia.
Treatment of Carotemia
I myself, at one point, began drinking a lot of carrot juice, because I quite enjoyed it mixed with apple juice. The side effects were headache and some skin discoloration. It went away soon after I stopped drinking so much carrot juice. The only treatment necessary, most of the time, is to stop consuming excessive amounts of beta-carotene supplements or carrots. The discoloration will gradually fade. Otherwise, when it is caused by an underlying illness or disorder, the carotenemia will fade once the condition is brought under control. 4Passeron, Thierry, and Jean-Paul Ortonne. Atlas of Pigmentary Disorders. Adis, 2015.
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|1, 4.||↲||Passeron, Thierry, and Jean-Paul Ortonne. Atlas of Pigmentary Disorders. Adis, 2015.|
|2.||↲||Lutz, Carroll A., et al. Nutrition and Diet Therapy. F. A. Davis Company, 2015.|
|3.||↲||Brown, Judith E. Everywoman’s Guide to Nutrition. University of Minnesota Press, 1991.|