If You Eat an Excessive Amount of Carrots, Your Skin Will Turn an Orangish/Yellow Shade

Daven Hiskey 4
Today I found out if you eat an excessive amount of carrots, your skin will turn an orangish/yellow shade.

Take notes those of you from New Jersey, you don’t need to get a fake tan to turn orange, you can simply eat large amounts of orange plants, such as orange carrots.  The resulting condition is known as carotenemia and isn’t as uncommon as you might think.  It particularly rears its orangish-yellow head with infants that are often fed copious amounts of mushed carrots and a variety of vegetables that contain high amounts of carotene.  Carotene is a pigment and if you consume a lot of it, the carotene levels in your body build up and your skin will turn orangish-yellow.  This effect will typically first show up with your nose and/or palms showing the color first, which is why you occasionally see babies with orange noses.

Luckily, especially for kids whose parents over feed them carrots and other such carotene packed food, this condition isn’t harmful, other than potentially making the kid look like a future star of Jersey Shore, which I guess could be considered a form of child abuse.  But beyond that, all one has to do to make the skin coloration go away is to simply stop consuming large amounts of things with carotene in it.

While it can cause odd skin coloration, one thing eating large amounts of carrots won’t do is improve your eyesight, at least assuming you’re not malnourished.  If you are malnourished, it may improve your vision.  Specifically, if you aren’t getting enough Vitamin-A, eating carrots (because of the beta-carotene that your body converts to Vitamin-A as it needs it) can improve your eyesight and night vision. However, the fact is that most people in the developed world get plenty of Vitamin-A because it’s in an awful lot of foods, such as: pretty much all dairy products, eggs, peas, pumpkin, broccoli, cantaloupe, spinach, sweet potatoes, papayas, lettuce, mangoes, cucumbers, peaches, pineapples, tomatoes, yellow corn, and many, many more. Further, because excessive amounts of Vitamin-A won’t improve vision any more than adequate amounts will get your vision at and because Beta-Carotene won’t be turned into Vitamin-A in your body if you’ve already got enough Vitamin-A (which is good because too much Vitamin-A can be toxic), eating carrots won’t usually do anything for your vision at all.

The myth that carrots can improve your eyesight beyond normal, particularly that carrots can improve night vision, was popularized by British propaganda during WWII.  British gunners in WWII were able to locate and shoot down German planes at night due to significant advancements in radar technology during WWII.  To help cover up this fact, the British spread about an urban legend that said that they were able to increase the night vision of their pilots by having them consume large amounts of carrots.  This propaganda campaign included stories about certain pilots like Lieutenant John “Cat Eyes” Cunningham who they said had exceptional night vision thanks to a habit of eating large amounts of carrots.  This lie not only gave birth to an urban legend, but also caused many British people to start planting their own vegetable gardens, including planting and eating a large amount of carrots in order that they’d be able to see better during blackouts.

Bonus Facts:

  • Not only will your skin eventually turn orangish-yellow by consuming a large amount of carotene, but the carotene will also be excreted through your feces and urine, which in extreme cases can make both of those turn an orange color.
  • Excessive consumption of the pigment lycopene, found in such plants as tomatoes, can also cause your skin to turn orange, similar to excessive consumption of carotene. This is also harmless and completely reversible by simply stopping consuming the lycopene.
  • One that isn’t naturally reversible is the effect of consuming too much elemental silver, which can eventually turn your skin blue-ish/purple.  The condition is known as Argyria  This is more or less a permanent condition, though there has been some progress recently in being able to reverse the effect, such as one method that uses laser therapy.

    Argyria

  • A somewhat surprising source of carotene can be chicken.  This isn’t because the chicken meat itself would normally contain much carotene, but rather because commercial chicken feed often contains things such as marigolds, which have high amounts of beta-carotene.
  • While consuming too much carotene isn’t typically thought to be harmful, recent studies have indicated that excessive intake of beta-carotene for smokers may increase their chances of getting lung cancer.  The only other known negative to eating too much carotene, outside of the potential cosmetic effects, is that occasionally people are misdiagnosed with jaundice, rather than the correct harmless carotenemia.
  • If you really want to keep your eyes healthy, eating fresh fruits and leafy vegetables is even better than getting your vitamin-A mostly from carrots.  The leafy vegetables typically contain beta-carotene, so you’ll still get your vitamin-A, but they also contain such things as Vitamin C and E, which have been shown to prevent cataracts, as well as normal age related macular degeneration (loss of clear sight to the center of your field of vision due to damage to the retina).
  • Another eye related myth is that reading in dim light will damage your vision.  In fact, this will do nothing to harm your eyesight, other than fatigue your eyes more quickly than normal, which is only a temporary thing.
  • The idea that the Germans didn’t have or know anything about radar during WWII is also a myth (that is even spread about on certain otherwise reputable documentaries *looks at the History Channel*).  The Germans had relatively advanced radar technology of their own and they even used it on occasion, particularly later in the war, though not nearly to the extent they could have had their high ranking officials realized the potential of the technology.  They were also well aware the British were using it, though both sides spread about an amazing amount of misinformation to try to hide their use of radar and the state of their technology, such as with the carrot/eyesight myth.  The Germans even for a time tried to focus their bombing on the British radar towers during the Battle of Britain, but these towers were easily replaced and very hard to hit with bombers at the time, so the Germans quickly abandoned this strategy.  One of the many blunders the Germans made during the Battle of Britain was in under-utilizing their own radar technology (Hitler famously didn’t see much use for it as he viewed it as solely something that was useful for defensive purposes, which of course is amazingly short-sighted).  On a similar vein, they also underestimated how useful radar was to the British as a defensive weapon, with it being a key part of the Dowding System strategy of defense the British used during the Battle of Britain.
  • Another interesting thing about the Battle of Britain was that, while the British had significantly more planes than the Germans thought, they did not have an excess of pilots to put in the planes.  This was never a major issue as they were always able to have enough pilots for their needs, though many pilots were flying as many as 6 or 7 missions per day during certain parts of the Battle of Britain.  However, this likely would have been an issue save for the fact that German Luftwaffe pilots on the whole felt it wasn’t appropriate to shoot pilots who’d been forced to eject and parachute to the ground.  Had they done so, it is thought Britain would have quickly run out of trained pilots as new pilots tended to get killed within their first five combat missions, so this would have been devastating to the Royal Air Force.  The reality was that very shortly after a pilot had been forced to eject, they would land safely, un-harassed while parachuting.  They then were given a new plane and were back up in the air shortly thereafter, often within a couple hours.  Had the Luftwaffe had a more Nazi-like ruthless policy and shot at the ejected pilots, it is very likely the lack of trained pilots in Britain would have become critical and may have tipped the balance in the Battle of Britain.
  • In ancient times, the root part of the carrot plant that we eat today was not typically used.  The carrot plant, however, was highly valued due to the medicinal value of its seeds and leaves.   For instance, Mithridates VI, King of Pontius (around 100BC) had a recipe for counteracting certain poisons with the principle ingredient being carrot seeds.  It has since been proven that this concoction actually works.

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4 Comments »

  1. Mark February 14, 2012 at 7:50 am - Reply

    Carotene – also what makes Flamingo and Prawns pink (in the case of Flamingoes, it’s eating the shrimp that does it.)

  2. S.Y. March 20, 2012 at 5:11 pm - Reply

    This happened to me when I was a baby. My parents were worried that I had jaundice, but the doctor just informed them that I ate too many carrots.

  3. Helen January 4, 2013 at 2:35 pm - Reply

    I was interested to read about the Battle of Britain and the chivalry of the German pilots which, you suggest, disadvantaged the Germans in the end as the pilots returned to fight again. My father was a decorated Spitfire pilot who spoke very little about his experience but I do remember him commenting once about the fear of bailing out which he had to do on 2 occasions. Pilots in disabled planes bailed out away from the battle if they could. As they descended by parachute they were often deliberately passed by enemy planes close enough so that the slip stream collapsed their parachute causing them to fall to their death. Only the lucky ones returned to a new plane, within hours, though hardly ‘unharrassed’ as you put it.

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