Being exposed to secondhand smoke may deprive children of an important vitamin that may protect against heart disease and is needed for growth and development. In a study of nearly 3,000 children, those who were exposed to the most cigarette smoke had the lowest levels of vitamin C in their blood, regardless of how much vitamin C they took in food and multivitamins. Other studies have linked secondhand smoke to lower blood levels of vitamin C and beta-carotene in adults, and to an increased risk of asthma and wheezing in children. Researchers from University of Medicine and Dentistry, New Jersey-Robert Wood Johnson Medical School in New Brunswick measured blood levels of cotinine (a byproduct of tobacco smoke) in 2,968 children aged 4 to 18. They also interviewed parents and children about their smoking habits and recorded the child's diet over the past day. Although intake of fruit, a major source of vitamin C, was similar among children with smoking and nonsmoking parents, blood levels of the vitamin were lower in children exposed to tobacco smoke. Overall, children and adolescents exposed to cigarette smoke had 20% less vitamin C in their blood than those who were not exposed. Cigarette smoke contains high levels of free radicals, compounds implicated in disease and aging. March, 2001.
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