Carotenoids and retinoids have several similar biological activities such as antioxidant properties, the inhibition of malignant tumour growth and the induction of apoptosis. Supplementation with carotenoids can affect cell growth and modulate gene expression and immune responses. Epidemiological studies have shown a correlation between a high carotenoid intake in the diet with a reduced risk of breast, cervical, ovarian, colorectal cancers, and cardiovascular and eye diseases. Cancer chemoprevention by dietary carotenoids involves several mechanisms, including effects on gap junctional intercellular communication, growth factor signalling, cell cycle progression, differentiation‐related proteins, retinoid‐like receptors, antioxidant response element, nuclear receptors, AP‐1 transcriptional complex, the Wnt/β‐catenin pathway and inflammatory cytokines. Moreover, carotenoids can stimulate the proliferation of B‐ and T‐lymphocytes, the activity of macrophages and cytotoxic T‐cells, effector T‐cell function and the production of cytokines. Recently, the beneficial effects of carotenoid‐rich vegetables and fruits in health and in decreasing the risk of certain diseases has been attributed to the major carotenoids, β‐carotene, lycopene, lutein, zeaxanthin, crocin (/crocetin) and curcumin, due to their antioxidant effects. It is thought that carotenoids act in a time‐ and dose‐dependent manner. In this review, we briefly describe the biological and immunological activities of the main carotenoids used for the treatment of various diseases and their possible mechanisms of action.
This article is part of a themed section on Principles of Pharmacological Research of Nutraceuticals. To view the other articles in this section visit http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/bph.v174.11/issuetoc