Carotenoids are important derivatives of the human diet and occur in high concentrations in the human organism. Various carotenoids are also present in human breast milk and are transferred to breast-fed children. The alternative to breastfeeding is supplementation with an infant milk formula, but these formulas contain only a limited variety of carotenoids. Our question is: ‘What is the function of various carotenoids in human nutrition with a special emphasis on child development and the development of atopy?’ In this review, the mechanisms of action of the most important non-pro-vitamin A and pro-vitamin A carotenoids: α-carotene, β-carotene, β-cryptoxanthin, lutein, zeaxanthin, lycopene and retinoids are discussed. In summary, the combination of carotenoids, especially lycopene, seems to be of great importance, and exclusive usage of β-carotene in infant formula may yield in an increased atopy prevalence mediated in various target organs like the skin, lungs and immune competent cells. We conclude that the determination of novel bioactive metabolites of various carotenoids, at various stages in different organs during atopy development, might be the key to understanding the potential importance of carotenoids on atopy development.

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