Inducing Carotenosis for Fun and Curiosity

My partner, Drew, and I recently read this and thought it was pretty fantastic. We decided, of course, to test it on ourselves to find out if we could take in enough β-carotene to turn ourselves orange in a month.

Allow me to give you some background and also some indication as to why taking on this little experiment is kinda hilarious.

The condition called Carotenosis occurs due to an excess of β-carotene. This usually occurs in vegans and vegetarians who intake a large about of β-carotene rich foods like pumpkin and carrots. β-Carotene is what we use to make vitamin A.

The reason this is particularly humorous is because a couple of years ago we both attempted to partake in a citizen science study that involved eliminating vitamin A from our diets. Now, we will be making up for it (especially Drew, who managed to last damn near through the whole experiment; I, on the other hand, was a terrible data point and hardly lasted a couple weeks. That will be a post of it’s own and an anecdote to consider for those who wish to be citizen scientists).

Because there is varied info about just how much β-carotene will cause the yellowing of skin, we’re going add several times the β-carotene for sufficient vitamin A production on top of our normal diet (with slight alteration to include the additional calories), and see where that gets us. In addition to our normal (already vitamin A and β-carotene rich) diets, we will each ingest 8 small – medium carrots/day which will put us at approximately 1lb/day of carroty goodness. Each carrot has about 4,124mcg β-carotene or 8,353IU/carrot. The average man needs approximately 3,000IU and women need 2,310IU. At 8 carrots a day, that puts us at about 66,824IU extra per day.

Ingesting β-carotene from food is different from using β-carotene or vitamin A supplements, which is not recommended. Basically, once your body has generated enough vitamin A, it won’t generate more from the excess β-carotene you get from food (source). Therefore, there is no risk of conditions like hypervitaminosis A that are caused by an excess of vitamin A. Other than the yellowing of the skin, it does not appear to be harmful and our skin will go back to a normal color once we’ve decreased our intake again. On the plus side, we might get a little bit of sunburn prevention!

Each day there is sunlight, we will photograph ourselves in the shade in front of our white door and I’ll write an update with an overview of our recent diet. The photos will be unaltered (save to block out invasive colors like below). We will have a white towel draped over us so all you will see is us and white (more-or-less; I’ve noticed in the first photo that all the white is a little blue. However, the photos will all be taken there and with my phone, so the surroundings should stay fairly consistent). This will, to some extent, eliminate effects involved in apparent skin tone that may occur from wearing different colors and being photographed in different lights. Each day (at least once a week, if not more), you will see photographs of us over the next month. Pigment often shows up strongly in the hands and and nose.

Photos, Day 1:

Drew & Anita, respectively. Anita has a box added to cover part of shirt that was showing and the photo is slightly grainy (she is the better photographer), but any changes should still be apparent.

Issues that may influence this little experiment: our diets, although fairly consistent, may involve slightly varying amounts of vitamin A intake per day, though none less than offered by 8 carrots. We will track general data but not perfectly specific data. This strictly has to do with the two data samples we have (Drew and I) and our preferences. Therefore, should anyone find our results interesting and want to test it further, know that we’re giving you general information having to do with approximate content, not precise information. Additionally, due to a shortage of supplies, we will not be taking blood samples to show an increase in β-carotene in our plasma. That’s how  it’s definitively diagnosed when a fearful parent brings in their child wondering why their child’s skin is wacky. In other words, you’ll have to trust us to not alter the color in the photographs.

In the future, I hope my experiments are more refined. We decided to do this on a whim and we suspect that it will be completed by the time we have to move. If nothing else, it should be a fun romp before we’re back in Pennsylvania.

Photo of carrots sourced here.

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