Hi Sabrecat, betacarotene ( a carotenoid) is the precursor to Vitamin A, it's what gives carrots, pumpkin, sweet potato, fruits etc., their yellow/orange colour, it is found in lots of greens too. It's absorbed in the stomach lining and converted to Vitamin A (retinol) - a fat-soluble vitamin (like E), not water-soluble like B & C, hence Vitamin A and E are stored in the liver and fat cells.
Vitamin A is important for healthy mucous membranes (e.g. mouth, throat, lungs), skin, eyesight e.g. for night 'blindness', and the immune system. Betacarotene is not an 'essential' vitamin ( vitamins and nutrients not synthesised by the body, required through diet) but Vitamin A is. It is an antioxidant, betacarotene from food will be absorbed only in the quantity the body needs, but supplements can cause build-up if too high.
Some vegans who get carried away with juicing carrots can end up with a nasty looking side-effect of orange skin! So, can people who take high doses of synthetic carotenoids. It shouldn't be taken at the same time as Vitamin B Complex because it reduces the effect of Niacin - vitamin B3. It's suggested Carotenoids are better taken with Vit C, E, Selenium and Zinc. It is safer to take betacarotene (either natural or synthetic) than Vitamin A if you have liver problems because of the risk of Vitamin A build-up in the liver is very toxic.
It interacts with cholesterol lowering drugs e.g. statins; weight loss pills.
Smokers, apparently should be very careful taking it as a supplement because some research has indicated higher risk of lung cancer, since smokers are already at 'high risk' it's difficult to analyse the reasons for this result. So, it's just advised that smokers don't take this supplement.
Therefore, given our HepC compromised liver function, it's best not to take Vitamin A supplements and if you really aren't eating your colourful fruits and veggies then betacarotene is safer.
Ok, enough of my waffling