Don't Take a "Lone Ranger" Approach to Nutrition

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Don't Take a "Lone Ranger" Approach to Nutrition

April 4th 2006 -
I recently saw an ad for a "Smoker's Vitamin". Its promoter proudly proclaimed that it was "free of beta-carotene".

Beta-carotene, you see, was shown to increase cigarette smokers' risk of lung cancer in three large medical studies(the ATBC, CARET, and Physician’s Health Studies).

This is not terribly surprising. Beta-carotene is an antioxidant. It works to neutralize damaging molecules called free radicals, but when it does its job beta-carotene itself becomes a free radical.

Under normal conditions the beta-carotene peroxyl radical is recycled by vitamin C or other water soluble nutrients. Smokers, however, are commonly deficient in vitamin C and they are therefore unable to restore beta-carotene to its original state.

Contrary to the increase in lung cancer seen when beta-carotene was administered as a Lone Ranger expecting it alone to save the day, a study from Linxian, China, demonstrated a 55 % reduction in lung cancer and a 13 % overall cancer reduction in smokers given a combination of beta-carotene, vitamin E, and selenium.

While I certainly do not advocate limiting antioxidant supplementation to those three nutrients, the study demonstrates that benefits accrue when antioxidant nutrients are allowed to work in harmony.

Smokers have been demonstrated to be seriously deficient in beta-carotene, a nutrient that is critical to eye health, one of the many areas in which smokers face higher than average risks. To fail to provide it as part of a balanced support regimen is foolhardy at best.

Dale H. Peterson, M.D.