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Do Antioxidants Help Protect Smokers: A Literature Review

Theodore Hersh, MD; Wendy Barkin
Thione International, Inc.
Presented at the World Conference on Tobacco OR Health, Aug. 2000

Cigarette smoking has been linked to an increased risk of developing cardio-pulmonary diseases and various malignancies through the genesis of toxic free radicals (FR) which cause oxidative damage to cells' function and structure and to DNA. Antioxidants scavenge and neutralize FR but tend to be decreased in tissues and blood of smokers, particularly in elderly subjects as compared to younger smokers. The body's key antioxidant, glutathione, and vitamin C levels are lower in smokers, while concomitantly smokers exhibit high levels of lipid peroxidation, evidencing that smokers are in a chronic state of oxidative stress. Conversely, various studies reveal that the daily ingestion of 5 to 6 servings of fruits and vegetables, with their high antioxidant content, reduce FR effects and may lessen the prevalence of FR tobacco related diseases.

This paper will review both dietary studies and the use of nutritional supplements by smokers. Supplementation with glutathione antioxidants and with vitamin C improves the peroxidation of low density lipoproteins by prolonging the time these plasma proteins take to oxidize. Teleologically, the protection from oxidation of LDLs lower risks of developing atherosclerosis. Other reports in smokers and controls show that antioxidants tend to lessen DNA damage. In considering these reports in the literature, it becomes clear that a diet high in fruits and vegetables and antioxidant supplementation should be an integral component of individual smoking cessation programs and should also be recommended by physicians for those individuals who "won't or can't" quit tobacco abuse.

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