For many years the interest on carotenoids as food constituents resided in the colour they impart and in the fact that some of them are provitamins A. However, in the last 30 years many studies have been pointing out that they can provide diverse health benefits. In fact, either carotenoid-rich diets or high carotenoid levels in plasma are usually related to a lower risk of developing some diseases (such as cancer, eye disorders like age-related macular degeneration or cardiovascular disease).
In fact, although humans cannot synthesize carotenoids de novo, they are consistently found in tissues or biological fluids, where they play beneficial roles by several mechanisms (e.g. protecting against oxidation or modulating gene expression).
In recent years, important advances in carotenoids research have been made. For instance, much knowledge on their biosynthesis in plants and microbes has been generated and there have been important breakthroughs in their production in both conventional and genetically modified organisms. In the context of Food Science and Technology, the carotenoid profiles of many tropical and neglected foods have been characterized.
Furthermore, much research has focused on the assessment of bioavailability from different sources and the impact of different processing conditions on both the stability of carotenoids and their release from different food matrices. As far as nutrition and health are concerned, a large body of research has focused on gaining further insight into regulatory and mechanistic aspects of the formation of vitamin A, the biological actions of apocarotenoids in humans, the health benefits of lycopene and the role of lutein and zeaxanthin in eye health.
On the other hand, canthaxanthin and astaxanthin have been the subject of much research in Aquaculture to improve the colour of the fish as well as their well-being. Astaxanthin has also been thoroughly studied in the context of human health.