Carotenoids are brilliantly-colored organic pigments found in plants. Common colors are red, orange, and yellow.

In plants, carotenoids play two pivotal roles: facilitate light absorption for use in energy synthesis and to protect plant structures from UV radiation damage.

Humans do not produce carotenoids; robust amounts can only be gained through diet. The most common carotenoids are:

  • alpha carotene
  • beta carotene
  • cryptoxanthin
  • lutein
  • zeaxanthin
  • lycopene

Carotenoids are fat soluble; meaning they can penetrate unhealthy fat cells that harbor many of the toxins that compromise our well-being. 

How do carotenoids support musculoskeletal health?

Oxidative damage is a key mechanism that causes pre-mature aging of joint, muscle, bone, and tendon tissue. Carotenoids are powerful antioxidants. Carotenoids help shield the fat in cell walls from free radical attack. If the cell wall is damaged by the free radical onslaught all the contents inside the cell may leak out, causing the cell to undergo programmed cell death. Additionally, carotenoids disarm high energy oxygen molecules, called reactive oxygen species, that injure cell proteins and DNA.

Chronic low grade inflammation is a driving force behind chronic joint, bone, tendon, and muscle injury. Carotenoids inhibit the same inflammatory pathway targeted by commonly prescribed NSAIDS. Investigation suggests carotenoids reduce: 1) The synthesis of inflammation inducing signaling molecules, like cytokines and interleukins. 2) The activity of the pro-inflammatory enzymes, like COX-2. 3) The production of  pain inducing substances, such as prostaglandins.


4 Musculoskeletal Benefits of Carotenoids

1. Carotenoids Supports Joint Health


Multiple population-based epidemiological studies have observed an association between carotenoid intake and reduced risk of osteoarthritis. In a study looking at a cohort of participants from Johnson County, North Carolina, scientists identified a 70% reduction in the likelihood of knee arthritis in participants in the top third of lutein or Beta-cryptoxanthin consumption. (DeRoos et al. Public Health Nutrition: 4(5), 935-942.)

2. Carotenoids Boost Bone Health


Japanese researchers examined the association of Beta-cryptoxanthin, a type of carotenoid, and osteoporosis in post-menopausal subjects. The investigators found that higher serum concentrations of Beta-cryptoxanthin (1.88-10.53 microMoles)  was associated with a lower risk of developing osteoporosis. (Sugiura et al. High Vitamin C Intake with High Serum -Cryptoxanthin Associated with Lower Risk for Osteoporosis in Post-Menopausal Japanese Female Subjects: Mikkabi Cohort Study. J Nutr Sci Vitaminol, 62, 185–191, 2016)

3. Carotenoids Enhance Muscle Health

Researchers at John Hopkins University reviewed population studies that examined the relationship between muscle strength and carotenoids.The authors concluded that carotenoids or carotenoid-rich foods are protective against a decline in muscle strength and walking disability among older community-dwelling (Semba et al. Carotenoids as protection against sarcopenia in older adults  Arch Biochem Biophys. 2007 February 15; 458(2): 141–145.)

4. Carotenoids Promote Tendon Health

Investigators at the University of Chicago using a chicken model of tendon injury, explored the relationship between vitamin A supplementation, beta-carotene supplementation and tendon repair. The authors concluded that  beta-carotene and vitamin A supplementation increased the breaking strength of composite tendon wounds. (Greenwald et al. Zone II flexor tendon repair: effects of vitamins A, E, beta-carotene. J Surg Res. 1990 Jul;49(1):98-102)

Other Health Benefits

  • Promotes eye health
  • May reduce risk of prostate cancer
  • Supports skin health
  • May boost male fertility
  • Supports cognitive health



No upper limit of carotenoids consumed from natural food has been reported. However, high dose beta-carotene supplementation has been associated with serious risks:

Beta-carotene is thought to be unsafe when taken orally in high doses, especially when taken for an extended period of time. Consuming high amounts of beta-carotene may turn skin color into yellow or orange.

Experts are concerned that consuming high doses of antioxidant supplements like beta-carotene might be more harmful than safe. Some research have shown that supplementing with high doses of beta-carotene might raise the risk of certain cancers, and heighten the chance of death from all causes.

Any consideration of supplementation should be discussed with a qualified health professional familiar with your unique medical history.


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2. De Roos, A. J., Arab, L., Renner, J. B., Craft, N., Luta, G., Helmick, C. G., & … Jordan, J. M. (2001). Serum carotenoids and radiographic knee osteoarthritis: The Johnston County osteoarthritis project. Public Health Nutrition, 4(5), 935-942. doi:10.1079/PHN2001132

3. Granado-Lorencio, F., Lagarda, M. J., Garcia-López, F. J., Sánchez-Siles, L. M., Blanco-Navarro, I., Alegría, A., & … Barberá, R. (2014). Effect of b-cryptoxanthin plus phytosterols on cardiovascular risk and bone turnover markers in post-menopausal women: A randomized crossover trial. Nutrition, Metabolism & Cardiovascular Disease, 24, 1090-1096.

4. McAlindon, T. E., Jacques, P., Zhang, Y., Hannan, M. T., Aliabadi, P., Weissman, B., & … Felson, D. T. (1996). Do antioxidant micronutrients protect against the development and progression of knee osteoarthritis? Arthritis Rheum, 39(4), 648-56.

5. Pablo, P., Dietrich, T., & Karlson, E. W. (2007). Antioxidants and other novel cardiovascular risk factors in subjects with rheumatoid arthritis in a large population sample. Arthritis Rheum, 57(6), 953–962. doi:10.1002/art.22912

6. Wang, Y., Hodge,A. M., Wluka, A. E., English,D. R., Giles,G. G., O'Sullivan,G., & … Cicuttini, F. M. (2007). Effect of antioxidants on knee cartilage and bone in healthy, middle-aged subjects: A cross-sectional study. Arthritis Research & Therapy, 9, R66. doi:10.1186/ar2225





 Lucas J. Bader MD

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