Carotenemia is an excess of beta-carotene in the blood. It is a common and mostly harmless condition in infants usually appearing when infants begin to eat solids. When they eat too many foods containing beta-carotene (e.g. pumpkin, carrot, most yellow or orange vegetables), the baby receives too much beta-carotene and some is deposited in the skin.
This gives the skin a yellow or orange coloring. Whereas this condition is usually harmless, it is important to distinguish it from jaundice or other very serious conditions which also cause yellow skin or orange skin. Note that beta-carotene excess should not cause yellow eyes whereas jaundice usually does, though there are exceptions.
Symptoms of Carotenemia
- Yellow skin
- Orange skin
- Normal color eyes - not usually yellow like jaundice
- Carotene consumption
- Excessive consumption of carotene-rich foods is the most common cause of carotenemia.
- Carotenes occur in all pigmented fruits and vegetables, and they are synthesized as fruits and vegetables ripen.
- In green vegetables, the color of carotene is often masked by the green color of chlorophyll. As a rule of thumb, the deeper the green or yellow of a fruit or vegetable, the more carotene it contains.
- Although often overlooked by parents, most strained baby foods on the market contain carrots.
- Human and cow milk also contain carotene. The occasional yellow color of milk is due to carotene content, and human milk provides a rich source of carotene, especially if maternal serum carotene levels are high.
- The yellow color of colostrum is caused by carotene content.
- In dietary carotenemia, elevated serum carotene often is accompanied by a corresponding elevation in serum vitamin A levels, but hypervitaminosis A is not observed presumably because the conversion of carotenoids to vitamin A is regulated. In other causes of carotenemia, serum vitamin A levels are within reference ranges or low.
- Diabetes mellitus
- Many individuals with diabetes have elevated serum carotene levels, but only 10% of these individuals exhibit yellowing of the skin.
- Carotenemia may be related to restricted dietary habits, hyperlipidemia, or a deficiency in the conversion of carotene into vitamin A by the liver.
- The commonly accepted cause of carotenemia in hypothyroidism is a decrease in the conversion of carotene into vitamin A, as well as associated hyperlipidemia and hypercholesterolemia.
- Thyroid hormone is antagonistic to vitamin A and controls its rate of consumption. In hypothyroidism, the consumption of vitamin A is decelerated, and the rate of conversion from carotene to vitamin A is reduced.
- Anorexia nervosa
- The association between carotenemia and anorexia nervosa is well documented.
- Carotenemia is not thought to be associated with a high-carotene diet but may be related to hypercholesterolemia, which is an occasional but reversible defect in the conversion of carotene to vitamin A, or to a normal intake of dietary carotene in the presence of a decreased requirement.
- Liver disease: Primary hepatic injury may prevent the conversion of carotene to vitamin A.
- Kidney disease: Serum carotene levels may markedly be elevated in patients with chronic glomerulonephritis and nephrotic syndrome.
- Inborn errors of metabolism: Carotenemia may result from a failure to convert carotene into vitamin A due to an inborn error of metabolism.
- Familial conditions: These may be associated with carotenemia.
Treatments For Carotenemia
- Avoid or reduce the foods containing beta-carotene - such as vitamin A , fish oils, pumpkin, carrot, sweet potato, etc.
- Avoid vitamin A
- Watchful waiting - the condition usually subsides after the causing foods are removed.
Foods High in Beta-Carotene
In general, foods that are high in beta-carotene include yellow-orange fruits and vegetables and dark green leafy vegetables.
Examples of baby foods that are likely high in beta-carotene include:
- Butternut squash
- Sweet potatoes
- Winter squash
Other foods that are high in beta-carotene, but which generally aren't found in commercially prepared baby food include pumpkin, collard greens, beans, egg yolks, and yams. Of course, once your baby starts eating table food or if you are making homemade baby food, she may get more of these high beta-carotene foods than infants who are just eating jarred baby food.
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