Background and purpose: A large number of studies have contributed to the hypothesis that carotenoids, vitamins A and E are protective against atherosclerosis by acting as antioxidants. The aim of this study was to assess the relationship between plasma levels of carotenoids (alpha- and beta- carotene, lutein, lycopene, zeaxanthin, beta-cryptoxanthin), vitamins A and E, and atherosclerosis in the carotid and femoral arteries.
Methods: This prospective and cross sectional study involved a randomly selected population sample of 392 men and women aged 45-65 years. Carotid and femoral artery atherosclerosis was assessed by high-resolution duplex ultrasound.
Results: alpha- and beta- carotene plasma levels were inversely associated with the prevalence of atherosclerosis in the carotid and femoral arteries (P=0.004) and with the 5-year incidence of atherosclerotic lesions in the carotid arteries (P=0.04). These findings were obtained after adjustment for other cardiovascular risk factors (sex, age, LDL (low density lipoproteins), ferritin, systolic blood pressure, smoking, categories of alcohol consumption, social status, C-reactive protein). Atherosclerosis risk gradually decreased with increasing plasma alpha- and beta-carotene concentrations (P=0.004). No associations were found between vitamin A and E plasma levels and atherosclerosis.
Conclusions: This study provides further epidemiological evidence of a protective role of high alpha- and beta- carotene in early atherogenesis.