Smokers should avoid beta-carotene supplements

December 18, 2007 in Cancer Prevention, Nutrition Topics in the News, Vitamins, Minerals, Supplements

Smokers should avoid beta-carotene supplements

It's been known for over a decade that smokers who take supplements containing beta-carotene are at increased risk of developing lung cancer.

Now, the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), a consumer advocacy group, is calling for warning labels on supplements with beta-carotene to increase awareness of this health threat to smokers.

Smokers and former smokers should be warned not to take supplements containing more than 5,000 international units (IU) or three milligrams of beta-carotene. Many multivitamin and mineral supplements contain between 1,000 to 10,000 IU of beta-carotene.

Previous studies have shown that high dose beta-carotene significantly increases the risk of lung cancer in smokers.

A Finnish study published in 1994 was the first to show the dangers of beta-carotene to smokers. Since then, American research findings have also backed the results, strongly suggesting that mega-doses of beta-carotene harm smokers.

Foods containing beta-carotene - carrots, sweet potatoes, apricots winter squash, broccoli, collard greens and kale - do not appear to harm smokers' lungs.

Some beta-carotene is converted to vitamin A in the body. Vitamin A helps maintain healthy skin, hair, nails, bones and teeth. It also plays a role in proper night and color vision.  Beta-carotene also acts as an antioxidant protecting cells from the harmful effect of free radicals.

According to Lung Cancer Canada, smoking is responsible for about 30% of all cancer deaths. One in 12 Canadians will develop lung cancer during their lifetime and 85% of these cancer cases are related to smoking.

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