The study shows that eating foods rich in antioxidants, like vegetables and fruits, fights illness and may prolong life.
Researchers found that people with the maximum levels of the antioxidant alpha-carotene in their blood had a 39% lower risk of death from any cause, including heart disease and cancer, than those who had the lowest levels of the antioxidant during the 14-year study.
"These findings support increasing fruit and vegetable consumption as a means of preventing premature death," write researcher Chaoyang Li, MD, PhD, of the CDC and colleagues in the Archives of Internal Medicine.
Alpha-carotene is part of a group of antioxidants known as carotenoids, which also includes beta-carotene and lycopene. Vegetables mainly high in alpha-carotene include yellow-orange vegetables, such as carrots, sweet potatoes, pumpkin, and winter squash, and dark green vegetables, such as broccoli, green beans, green peas, spinach, turnip greens, collards, and lettuce.
Although before studies have suggested eating more fruits and vegetables is associated with a lower risk of disease, studies have not shown that taking beta-carotene supplements reduces the risk of dying from heart disease or cancer.
Researchers wanted to see if other carotenoids may also play a role in reducing the risk of diseases.