Monday, February 11, 2013

Beta-carotene, is it safe for smokers?

Over the last couple of decades there has been a lot of controversy with regards to beta carotene supplementation, which has been shown to increase the risk of lung cancer amongst smokers and drinkers. As I sit here chomping on a bowl of fruit topped with goji berries, this gives me cause for concern. Ah, but thankfully, it appears that beta carotene is safe for smokers when ingested from a whole food source. Supplements with beta carotene on the other hand, are not so safe for smokers:

Unlike supplements, foods rich in beta-carotene pose no lung cancer risk.

Well, that settles it: I now have no intentions of giving up my morning goji berry habit.

Synthetic beta-carotene supplements have been found to increase the risk of both colorectal and lung cancer in smokers, especially those who also drink alcohol. A study published by an international team in the January 2004 issue of Cancer Epidemiology Biomarkers and Prevention indicates that beta-carotene consumed as part of whole foods has no such negative effects.

Translation: do not take beta-carotene supplements if you smoke &/or drink on a regular basis, but do eat well.

Carotenoids may play a role in the prevention of the following health conditions:
  • Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS)
  • Age-related macular degeneration
  • Angina pectoris
  • Asthma
  • Cataracts
  • Cervical cancer
  • Cervical dysplasia
  • Chlamydial infection
  • Heart disease
  • Laryngeal cancer (cancer of the larynx)
  • Lung cancer
  • Male and female infertility
  • Osteoarthritis
  • Photosensitivity
  • Pneumonia
  • Prostate cancer
  • Rheumatoid arthritis
  • Skin cancer
  • Vaginal candidiasis

Statistically speaking, smokers and drinkers eat fewer foods that contain carotenoids such as beta-carotene. Also, researchers suspect that cigarette smoke destroys carotenoids. However, if you do smoke or drink, use carotenoid supplements with caution

To read more, click on the link below:
 WHFoods: beta-carotene


  1. What is of the GREATEST importance, J, is "How great is the PROBABILITY?"
    As we know, these studies tend to pick up on some minuscule risk and turn that minuscule risk into something important on the grounds that the risk is 50 times greater in smokers. But, when you analyse the detail, it may well turn out that even 50 times the risk is still minuscule. Fifty times 0.000001 = 0.000050.
    Tobacco Control is adept at this sort of exaggeration, as has been shown by their emphasis upon SIDS. In the UK, 'Sudden Infant Death Syndrome' accounted for 130 infant deaths out of 700,000 live births in 2010.


    1. Junican,

      I'm not exactly certain on what the probability is. Still though, sometimes it's good to err on the side of caution. I tend to think that Whole Foods is telling the truth. It's not like they're beating anyone over the head for being a smoker, they're just saying that if you are, then maybe it's better to get your beta carotene from whole (no pun foods. Personally, I feel that if we were to get more information (on diet, etc..) like this, we'd all be better off...but, that's just me:-)

  2. I don't disagree with the idea that whole foods are better. It's just that I think that one should not put too much emphasis on statistical associations.
    Buried deep inside the report which you link to is a statement that 'beta-carotene deficiency is not known to cause health problems, at least in the short term'.
    Yer takes yer pick!

    1. "Yer takes yer pick! "

      LOL! Fair enough...:-)

    2. ..though I am somewhat of a vitamin junkie....expensive habit..

  3. Here in the north of Scotland, vitamin D supplements are quite useful (especially in winter when the sun peeks over the horizon at midday then says 'Nah, can't be bothered' and goes away again).

    All other vitamins are easily obtained in foods. Beta-carotene (which gets turned into vitamin A in the body) we get mainly from carrots which are easy to grow and therefore cheap.

    An interesting aside - vitamins A and K are fat-soluble so you absorb them more efficiently if there are fats in your diet. Those who have, on 'health advice', reduced or excluded fats from their diets have a hard time absorbing these vitamins.

    1. Leg-iron,

      "Here in the north of Scotland, vitamin D supplements are quite useful ..."

      Lol, I bet! Oh, and speaking of being fat-soluble, vitamin D is fat-soluble as well. You're right, there is a role for healthy fats in the diet. A "no fat" diet isn't necessarily a "healthy" diet. Salmon is a good protein/fat source. I bet that you have an abundance of fatty fish up in Northern Scotland!

  4. I don't put a lot of faith in the research I've read as the government report was done on various multi-vitamins and within also states did not appear have the same effects on past smokers. When I was in my late 20's I visited a lung doctor and due to Lymes disease. He asked me if I was a smoker and said you know your lungs look like you have never smoked. At the time I had been smoking since I was 16 and had been taking vitamin A beta carotene for years. My thoughts were it was due to the vitamin A beta carotene that my lungs looked that way. I continued taking the supplement and have never suffered any I'll effects. I for one do not have much faith in the research I've read.

    1. "I've read as the government report was done on various multi-vitamins and within also states did not appear have the same effects on past smokers."

      Can you provide a reference for that?

      Thanks for stopping by:-)