Beta Carotene And Smoking

by Dan Roberts
July 2004
As most of us are aware, beta carotene (i.e. vitamin A) has been shown to increase the risk of lung cancer in smokers [Finnish Alpha-Tocopherol, Beta-Carotene Cancer Prevention (ATBC) study]. For this reason, people who smoke, or have recently smoked, are being advised to avoid supplements containing beta carotene. This has caused concern among patients who wish to follow the dietary recommendations of the Age-Related Eye Disease Study (AREDS).
Now, however, an important long-term study has shown that smokers who consume reasonable amounts of beta carotene in combination with a wide variety of antioxidants actually have a 16% lower risk of developing lung cancer. The discrepency between this recent study and the ATBC study is explained by the fact that the earlier researchers looked at beta carotene independent of other supplements, whereas new science has shown that dietary antioxidants protect the retina by interacting with other vitamins and phytochemicals. We learn, therefore, that when taken in combination with the other supplements in a multi-spectrum formula, reasonable amounts of beta carotene may not only be safe for AMD patients who smoke, but it might even be effective in lowering their risk of lung cancer.
These findings were reported in the July issue of the American Journal of Epidemiology (Development of a comprehensive dietary antioxidant index and application to lung cancer risk in a cohort of male smokers. Wright ME, Mayne ST, et al. Am J Epidemiol 2004 Jul 1;160(1):68-76.) Read the abstract.
As always, consult with both your general physician and your ophthalmologist before making any significant changes in your dietary supplements.

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