NEW YORK (Reuters) — The protective effects of vitamins E, C, and beta-carotene against cancer and other diseases largely depend on teamwork between these vitamins, especially in smokers, researchers say. The new findings may help to explain a report published recently in The New England Journal of Medicine that said heavy smokers with high beta-carotene levels have an increased likelihood of developing lung cancer.
Dr. George Truscott of Keele University and Christie Hospital in Manchester, England, found that beta-carotene and other vitamin A compounds (including lycopene, the substance that colors tomatoes red) actually boost the efficiency of two other antioxidant vitamins — C and E. But the researcher and his colleagues point out that vitamin C levels in the blood of smokers are often low. This may allow buildup of a potentially damaging form of beta-carotene known as carotene free radical.
The result is damage to the molecular structure of tissue cells, which can lead to tumors, particularly in the lungs. Now, in light of their study, Truscott and colleagues point to a simple preventive remedy for the situation in smokers: While taking beta-carotene, smokers should also take vitamin C to rid their bodies of the excess carotene free radicals. «The cooperative antioxidant properties of vitamins C and E with beta-carotene are much better understood as a result of this work,» Truscott says. «Such information should have a bearing on recommendations for nutrient antioxidant intake designed to achieve optimum disease prevention in smokers and nonsmokers alike.»
Journal of the American Chemical Society 1997;119: 621-622