Cryptoxanthin, also known as xanthophyll or beta-cryptoxanthin, is a provitamin that is found in several foods including red bell peppers, cilantro, oranges, corn, avocado and grapefruit. It is converted in the body to retinol, which is an active form of vitamin A. Its anti-aging properties have been the focus of several studies, and promising new research indicates that it may reduce the risk of some forms of cancer. In addition, the compound is believed to be a vital molecule for healthy lung function.
Classified as a carotenoid, cryptoxanthin is a naturally occurring pigment that is responsible for the bright color of many fruits. It is generally considered as one of 50 known carotenoids that can treat vitamin A deficiency. Cryptoxanthin typically has one-half the vitamin A activity of other similarly classified compounds, including beta-carotene and alpha-carotene.
The carotenoid is a fat soluble molecule, responsible for the coloring of foods, which generally requires the presence of dietary fat for proper absorption in the digestive tract. Individuals that are on low fat diets tend to have diminished carotenoid intake. Some medical conditions can also prevent the absorption of the carotenoid including pancreatic enzyme deficiency and Crohn's disease.
Carotenoids, such as cryptoxanthin, are strong anti-oxidants that protect cells from the damaging effects of free radicals. Anti-oxidants typically reduce the signs of aging including wrinkles and age spots. A lack of anti-oxidants usually increases the risk of tissue damage over time and can leave a person at a higher risk for heart disease. In addition, the anti-oxidant properties of carotenoids may be linked to diminished tumor growths in some types of cancer.
Some of the most promising laboratory experiments have shown that cryptoxanthin generally reduces the risk of cancer in the esophagus and the lungs. Other studies have shown that patients with colon cancer have a reduced level of the carotenoid in their system. This may indicate that the carotenoid is necessary for colon health. Increasing the level of this particular carotenoid in laboratory animals have shown to increase resistance to colon cancer.
A lot of the research is focused on the ability of cryptoxanthin to interact with the Rb gene in cells. This gene is an anti-tumor or anti-oncogene that prevents a cell from undergoing changes that would lead to uncontrolled cell division or growth. By activating the gene, the cell usually undergoes normal cell proliferation and doesn't become cancerous.
Another benefit of cryptoxanthin is its potential effects on lung tissue in individuals that smoke. The level of the carotenoid in the blood of smokers is dramatically less than those who don't smoke. Also, individuals with higher concentration of the carotenoid in their blood generally have increased lung function.