Can Carrots Help Combat COVID?
Carrots (Daucus carota) are root vegetables and one of the most popular food ingredients used worldwide. Researchers have found this popular vegetable may hold one key in the fight against COVID-19.1
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Historians believe the history of the carrot is somewhat obscured since, initially, carrots and parsnips were used interchangeably and it has been difficult to identify when wild carrots were first cultivated.2
It is believed they originated in Iran and Afghanistan and were popular in ancient Egypt, where the most-used carrot was believed to be purple. English settlers brought the modern-day carrot to Jamestown, Virginia, in 1609, where they spread to South America and then made the jump to Australia.
Wild carrots are still indigenous to Europe, North Africa and Western Asia and appear in temperate regions around the world.3 The modern carrot appeared in the 17th century after selective breeding reduced the wooden core and increased the sweetness.4 But it was only after World War I that carrots became popular in the U.S.
China leads the market for turnips and carrots combined, producing 48.2% of world sales for the two veggies.5 Global production in 2019 was 44.7 million metric tons and the market is expected to continue to grow at 3.4% through 2025. The major challenge during the COVID-19 pandemic has been the impact on the supply chain, which has increased direct farm-to-consumer sales and delayed shipping.
Some Components of Carrots Influence SARS-CoV-2 Proteins
Many scientists have begun studying the relationship between nutrition, your immune system and COVID-19 infection. Since carrots are consumed around the world, scientists at a private institution in Mexico developed a study in which they analyzed the effect retinol RTN from carrots has on amino acids that make up SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19.6
Preformed vitamin A, called retinol, comes only from animal products such as buttercream, cod liver oil, eggs and liver.7 However, carrots contain beta-carotene, which is converted into vitamin A in a range of 3-to-1 or 28-to-1, depending on factors such as thyroid function and zinc levels.
Researchers used the HyperChem molecular modeling software to evaluate electron transfer coefficients of the nutritional compounds found in carrots and the SARS-CoV-2 amino acids. What they found was the interaction between carrot RTN and the virus amino acids was the most stable, concluding that the results of their analysis “may indicate a recommendation to increase carrot consumption to mitigate the effects of COVID-19.”8
They point out that carrots are a rich source of vitamins C and A, as well as energy, fiber, calcium and beta-carotene. In the past researchers have demonstrated carrots have anti-inflammatory properties, anticancer activity and antioxidant activity by scavenging free radicals, which is essential for your immune system.
Their present work looked at the interaction between the amino acids in the COVID-19 coronavirus and multiple components found in carrots. Using chemical quantum analysis, they found RTN was the most stable substance and functioned as an antioxidant agent.
The data showed RTN, with other chemical compounds found in carrots, worked together to fight SARS-CoV-2. Interestingly, when they compared the power of RTN against commonly used allopathic medicines used for COVID-19, including remdesivir, ivermectin, aspirin and favipiravir, the natural substances in carrots appeared to be more powerful.9
Retinoids and Carotenoids Support Your Immune Health
While beta-carotene-rich vegetables, such as carrots, are helpful, you absorb more vitamin A from animal-based products. However, John Stolarczyk, from the World Carrot Museum, points out it’s easier to get people to eat carrots than it is to eat liver or cod liver oil:10
“Almost everyone, especially kids, likes carrots, whereas liver is an acquired taste. Carrots are very cheap, (easily stored) and attractively displayed in most stores. Liver looks dreadful."
For nearly 100 years, scientists have understood that vitamin A is an essential component in your body's ability to resist infectious disease.11 However, it is only recently that researchers have begun to understand the mechanism vitamin A uses to regulate cell- and humoral-mediated immunity.
This includes the discovery that retinoic acid plays an important role in cell regulation on immunity.12 Retinoic acid helps balance TH17 and T cell regulatory responses, as well as having a therapeutic role in autoimmune diseases. Researchers have found that retinoic deficiency plays an important role in the development of a broad range of autoimmune diseases.13
Your skin is an important part of your immune health, functioning as the front line of defense against bacteria and viruses and other pathogens. Scientists have known that vitamin A plays a unique and vital role in the formation and maturation of epithelial cells.14,15 But this doesn't happen on just the outside of your body.
Vitamin A also plays an integral role in the production of the mucus layer that lines your respiratory and intestinal tracts and plays a primary role in promoting the secretion of mucin. This is a glycoprotein that plays a central role in limiting infectious disease and in adaptive immunity.16
Researchers have also identified the role it plays in the defense of your oral mucosa and improving the integrity of your intestinal mucosa. In addition to being important to protect your immune system, researchers, using animal models, have found a vitamin A deficiency (VitAD) can result in a:17
“… defect in both T cell-mediated and antibody-dependent immune responses. VitAD can also inhibit the normal apoptosis process of bone marrow cells, which leads to an increased number of myeloid cells in the bone marrow, spleen, and peripheral blood, indicating that VitA is involved in the regulation of homeostasis of bone marrow.”
Beta-Carotene May Help Promote Cholesterol Homeostasis
Cholesterol and beta-carotene have considerable overlapping properties, including transportation facilitated by lipoproteins and the body’s use as precursors for hormones.18 While cholesterol and beta-carotene are present in atherosclerotic plaque lesions, elevated concentrations of beta-carotene are associated with a lower incidence of atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease.
In a study published in the Journal of Nutrition, researchers believe they have shed new light on the interaction between beta-carotene and cholesterol metabolism that has been called a “potential game-changer.”19
After a preclinical study in which they compare the effects of a 10-day diet high in beta-carotene on the plasma cholesterol of beta-carotene oxygenase 1 (BCO1) deficient mice, the research team aimed at determining whether the same BCO1 locus could affect serum cholesterol concentrations in humans.
They evaluated a cohort of college applicants of Mexican ethnicity in the Multidisciplinary Investigation on Genetics, Obesity, And Social Environment. BCO1 is the enzyme that converts beta-carotene into vitamin A.20
Analysis of the animal study showed that the mice without BCO1 had elevated plasma level concentrations of beta-carotene as they could not convert it to vitamin A.21 The higher concentrations were associated with an increase in cholesterol as compared to the wild type mice control, which converted beta-carotene to vitamin A and had lower levels of cholesterol.
Cholesterol changes occurred almost exclusively in non-HDL cholesterol.22 One commentator points out many are deficient in beta-carotene and speculates:23
“… it might be predictable that the observed effect increases with age and that the cholesterol-lowering effect of β-carotene is enhanced on diets rich in carotenoids.
Notably, previous studies linked low vitamin A blood concentrations to coronary events such as myocardial infarction. β-Carotene is a major source of vitamin A, but as recently noted by a conference elucidating the current status of the β-carotene research field, dietary intake is below recommended concentrations of <3 mg/d in many populations.”
More Health Benefits of Carrots and Seed Extract
The flavonoids, vitamins, minerals and carotenoids in carrots all contribute to numerous other health benefits. Data have demonstrated the compounds found in carrots have properties that lower the risk of diabetes, cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure and cancer.24
They also are known for hepatoprotective, renal protective and anti-inflammatory properties. When you develop a habit of including carrots in your daily routine, you enjoy some important health benefits.
•Cancer — Data show smokers who eat carrots more than once weekly have a lower risk of lung cancer,25 and a beta-carotene rich diet may help protect against prostate cancer26 and colon cancer,27 and to reduce the risk of gastric cancer.28
Carrots also contain falcarinol, a natural toxin they use against fungal disease, which may stimulate cancer-fighting mechanisms in your body and has demonstrated the ability to reduce the risk of tumors in rats.29
•Vision — Carrots have long been associated with good eyesight. Vitamin A deficiency can speed the deterioration of your eyes’ photoreceptors leading to vision problems and night blindness.30 Carrots can also reduce your risk of age-related macular degeneration31 and cataracts.32
Both are eye diseases that get worse over time and may lead to blindness. Additionally, data have shown that women can reduce their risk of glaucoma by 64% when they eat more than two servings of carrots per week.33
•Metabolic syndrome — Carrots contain beta-carotene and lycopene, both of which have been associated with lower incidence of metabolic syndrome in middle-aged and elderly men.34 Metabolic syndrome is associated with Type 2 diabetes, heart disease and stroke.
•Brain health — Data show middle-aged men and women who eat a high number of root vegetables, such as carrots, show a reduction in cognitive decline.35 Carrot extract has also demonstrated a positive effect on the management of cognitive dysfunction.36
•Antiaging effect — Carrots are replete with antioxidants that help reduce the damage caused by free radicals.37 Carrot seeds also have anti-inflammatory properties, which are significant even when compared against drugs like aspirin, ibuprofen and Naproxen.38
Vegetables that are rich in beta-carotene also help prevent premature skin aging. Data also show people with scleroderma, a disorder of connective tissue, had low levels of beta-carotene.39
Choose Your Carrots Carefully
Demand for baby carrots in the U.S. continues to rise as more people are choosing them for snacks over junk foods.40 Baby carrots are made from full-length carrots that are peeled and shaped. Bolthouse Farms and Grimmway Farms are the two leading producers that have focused on advertising campaigns and packaging to improve snack food sales.
However, part of the process of making baby carrots includes a chlorine bath. Grimmway Farms reports they use chlorine on all their baby carrots to prevent food poisoning.41 Chlorine can also be used to extend the shelf life of baby carrots.
Buffing and processing increase the rate at which the carrots begin to deteriorate and develop a white blush on the exterior as the vegetable begins drying out.42 Although the amount of chlorine in each individual baby carrot is minute, it has an additive value to your overall toxic burden.
Additionally, it isn't the chlorine that causes most problems but, rather, the disinfection byproducts produced when the chlorine interacts with organic matter.43 In this case, the term organic means a carbon-based compound.
Disinfection byproducts are far more toxic than chlorine and are produced in all baby carrots, whether toxic pesticides were used in the growing process or not. Long-term exposure includes excessive free radical formation, which accelerates aging and vulnerability to genetic mutation and cancer.
Scientists are only beginning to understand the long and short-term impact of chlorine base chemicals. Your healthiest option is to grow your own or buy whole, unprocessed, ideally organic carrots and then wash, peel and cut them yourself.
Carrots can stay fresh in the coolest part of your refrigerator for about two weeks when they are wrapped in a paper towel or placed in a sealed bag. Avoid storing them near apples, pears or potatoes since the ethylene gas released from these vegetables and fruit can create a bitter flavor to your carrots.44
If your carrots still have green tops, remove those before storing in the refrigerator since the carrots will wilt faster. However, carrot tops are nutritious and can easily be added to fresh vegetable juice or your salad.
This recommendation on carrots is general and I don't want you to believe that carrots should be used to treat COVID. It is important to understand that many are unable to effectively convert the carotenoids to the active form retinol that improves immune function.
So if you or anyone you know has an active infection it is FAR better to use retinol. A good form would be emulsified vitamin A. Don't eat a pound of carrots and think that it will help you fight COVID as it likely won't. You need the real vitamin A.
- 1, 6, 8 World Journal of Pharmaceutical Research 2020;9(15)
- 2 Spoon University, Everything You Need to Know About Carrots
- 3 World Carrot Museum, The History of Carrots
- 4 Vegetable Facts, History of Carrots
- 5, 40 Mordor Intelligence, Global Carrots and Turnips Market-Growth
- 7, 10 American Optometric Association, March 15, 2017
- 9 World Journal of Pharmaceutical Research 2020;9(15), Table 7
- 11 Biofactors, 2010;36(6)
- 12 Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 2008;1143
- 13 Trends in Immunology, 2017;38(3)
- 14 Oregon State University, Vitamin A and Skin Health
- 15, 17 Journal of Clinical Medicine, 2018;7(9)
- 16 Mucosal Immunology, 2008;1:183 Abstract
- 18, 19, 21, 22, 23 The Journal of Nutrition, 2020;150(8):2003
- 20 American Society for Nutrition, September 25, 2020
- 24 International Journal of Research, 2020;9(5)
- 25 International Journal of Epidemiology 1986;15(4):463
- 26 Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers and Prevention, 2004;13(2)
- 27 International Journal of Clinical Oncology 2014;19(1):87
- 28 American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 2007;85(2):497
- 29 Scientific American, February 9, 2005
- 30 American Academy of Ophthalmology
- 31 Investigative Ophthalmology and Visual Science 2014; 55(1):587
- 32 Critical Reviews in Biotechnology 2016; 36(5):829
- 33 American Journal of Ophthalmology 2008;145(6):1081
- 34 Journal of Nutrition, 2009;139(5)
- 35 British Journal of Nutrition, 2011;106(5)
- 36 Biological and Pharmaceutical Bulletin, 2006;29(6)
- 37 World’s Healthiest Foods, Carrots, Health Benefits
- 38 Phytotherapy Research, 2003; 17(8):976
- 39 St. Luke’s Hospital, Beta-carotene, Scleroderma
- 41 Fox News, April 20, 2017 Para 8,9 count only paras that are longer than 1 line
- 42 Health Canada 2009; White Blush on Cocktail Carrots
- 43 Environmental Science and Technology, 2018;52(4)
- 44 World’s Healthiest Foods, Carrots, Select and Store