Antioxidant and prooxidant properties of carotenoids

Arch Biochem Biophys. 2001 Jan 1;385(1):20-7. doi: 10.1006/abbi.2000.2149.


The ability of dietary carotenoids such as beta-carotene and lycopene to act as antioxidants in biological systems is dependent upon a number of factors. While the structure of carotenoids, especially the conjugated double bond system, gives rise to many of the fundamental properties of these molecules, it also affects how these molecules are incorporated into biological membranes. This, in turn, alters the way these molecules interact with reactive oxygen species, so that the in vivo behavior may be quite different from that seen in solution. The effectiveness of carotenoids as antioxidants is also dependent upon their interaction with other coantioxidants, especially vitamins E and C. Carotenoids may, however, lose their effectiveness as antioxidants at high concentrations or at high partial pressures of oxygen. It is unlikely that carotenoids actually act as prooxidants in biological systems; rather they exhibit a tendency to lose their effectiveness as antioxidants.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Antioxidants / chemistry
  • Antioxidants / metabolism*
  • Ascorbic Acid / metabolism
  • Carotenoids / chemistry
  • Carotenoids / metabolism*
  • Carotenoids / physiology*
  • Cell Membrane / metabolism
  • Diet
  • Dose-Response Relationship, Drug
  • Free Radicals
  • Humans
  • Lycopene
  • Models, Chemical
  • Oxygen / metabolism
  • Vitamin E / metabolism
  • beta Carotene / metabolism


  • Antioxidants
  • Free Radicals
  • beta Carotene
  • Vitamin E
  • Carotenoids
  • Ascorbic Acid
  • Oxygen
  • Lycopene