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Vital Support For Smokers

The basic nutritional needs of men and women who smoke are similar to those who don't use tobacco. However, conclusive evidence exists that smokers need more vitamins and minerals to counteract the effects of chemicals in cigarette smoke.

Supplements for smokers

Smokers seeking nutritional supplementation should look for a multivitamin that contains at least all of the following:

Food factors

When it comes to smoking, the health advice is clear: Quit. But if you're still lighting up, one of the best ways to help protect yourself is by improving your level of nutrition.

Eat fruits and vegetables. "The evidence overwhelmingly shows that people who eat high levels of fruits and vegetables have lower rates of cancer," says Eric Rimm (Assistant Professor in the Department of Epidemiology at Harvard School of Public Health). In a study in Japan, where cigarette consumption per capita is among the highest in the world and the incidence of lung cancer is among the lowest, researchers evaluated the effects of eating raw vegetables, green vegetables (especially lettuce and cabbage) and fruits in 282 smokers. They found that the relative risk of lung cancer was markedly decreased in those who ate fruits and raw vegetables daily.

It is recommended that for optimum protection, smokers eat at least seven and half-cup servings of fruits and vegetables every day.

Vitamin E: Is essential for smokers

Food sources of vitamin E are: peanuts, leafy green vegetables, butter, vegetable oils, eggs oats almonds sunflower seeds, sweet potatoes and kale.

One of vitamin E's most important functions for smokers is slowing the progression of atherosclerosis, a condition in which the coronary arteries harden from deposits of cholesterol, calcium and scar tissue, gradually restricting blood flow and leading to heart disease. Studies show that before atherosclerosis can occur, LDL cholesterol, the "bad" kind, has to undergo oxidation-related changes that allow it to deposit on artery walls. Vitamin E helps prevent the changes.

Additionally, investigators believe that vitamin E's ability to scavenge free radicals can protect tissues from smoke irritation and discourage the cell mutation that marks cancer and other tobacco-associated chronic diseases.

For optimum effects, it is recommended that you take 100 to 200 IU of vitamin E a day. In order to get this amount from food you would need to eat between 10 and 20 cups of foods such as chopped kale and diced sweet potatoes. Supplements are generally required.

Beta-carotene protection

Beta-carotene is contained in foods such as: spinach and other dark green, leafy vegetables as well as cantaloupe, carrots and other orange and yellow fruits and vegetables.

There are studies showing positive results from beta-carotene supplementation in smokers. Canadian researchers, for example, found that 25 smokers experienced significant reductions in oxidation-related damage after receiving 20 milligrams (about 33,000 IU) of beta-carotene daily for just four weeks.

But in one large study from Finland of 29,133 male heavy smokers between 50 and 69 years of age, those who received 20 milligrams (about 33,000 IU) of beta-carotene for five to eight years not only didn't reap any benefits but actually experienced a higher incidence of lung cancer.

How are we to understand the conflicting results? Jeffrey Blumberg, Ph.D. (Associate Director and Chief of the Antioxidants Research Laboratory at the Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts University in Boston) contends that the Finnish study represents what we already know: "You can't undo a lifetime of damage by taking a vitamin pill for five years. "That population was at extraordinarily high risk," says Dr. Blumberg. "They smoked an average of a pack a day for 35 years. Most of them were overweight. They had high cholesterol. They had moderate to high alcohol consumption. It would have been a public health nightmare if the study had worked, because it would have said 'Smoke and drink and eat all you want. This pill can turn around all of the damage.' "

Actually, the group in the Finnish study that did not receive supplements also taught us something, says Dr. Blumberg. "Among the people who weren't supplemented, those who had the highest blood levels of beta-carotene had the lower risk of lung cancer," he says.

Dr. Blumberg recommends that everyone, smokers and non-smokers, get between 16,500 and 50,000 IU of beta-carotene daily.

Finally, it's important to remember that beta-carotene is just one of many related substances called carotenoids that protect the body from cell damage, says Dr. Rimm. "All of the carotenoids function a little differently, so getting beta-carotene from fruits and vegetables covers a lot more bases than just taking a supplement." It's best to strive for getting as much of your 16,500 to 50,000 IU a day as possible from foods.

Vitamin C for healthy cells and sperm

Food sources of vitamin C are: citrus fruits, broccoli, tomatoes, potatoes, leafy green vegetables, brussel sprouts and cabbage.

Studies have found a connection linking smoking, low levels of vitamin C and sperm abnormalities. These abnormalities could play roles not only in infertility in men but also in birth defects and childhood cancer in their offspring, the studies show.

"We've known that many gene mutations come through the male line, but since women carry the babies, most of the birth defect studies are done on women," says Bruce Ames, Ph.D. (Professor of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology and Director of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences Center at the University of California, Berkeley). "We're looking into the effects of the male smoking on sperm damage, and the effects of antioxidant depletion are significant."

Smokers must ingest two to three times the daily intake of vitamin C recommended for non-smokers, or about 180mg, just to maintain comparable levels of ascorbic acid, says Dr. Ames. He has also found that as a group, smokers tend to make their deficiencies worse by not eating enough vitamin C rich foods.

While studying the vitamin C consumption of 22 smokers and 27 non-smokers, Dr. Ames and his colleagues found that the smokers consumed less vitamin C than the non-smokers. In addition, the level of oxidative damage in the sperm was 52 percent higher in the smokers than in the non-smokers.

Of course, sperm are not alone in their need for vitamin C. The rest of your body, whether you're male or female, needs it, too. And because smokers have too little vitamin C in their bodies and need more vitamin C to fight free radical damage, experts suggest that they take much more than non-smokers: up to 2,000 mg a day, if they are older and smoke heavily. Just keep in mind that the Daily Value for vitamin C is only 60mg. Higher amounts may cause diarrhea in some people.

Calcium, zinc and magnesium may help prevent bone loss

Foods containing calcium are: dairy products, tofu, leafy green vegetables and salmon.

Foods contain zinc are: meat, mushrooms, oysters, seeds and nuts.

Foods containing magnesium are: brown rice, brewer's yeast, legumes and soybeans.

Research shows that people who smoke, especially women, accelerate the bone loss that occurs typically with age, putting them at greater risk for osteoporosis, a condition of brittle, easily fractured bones. The minerals zinc and calcium seem to be particularly important for the prevention of this condition. It also appears that magnesium plays a role.

A study done at the University of Melbourne in Australia looked at 41 pairs of female twins between 27 and 73 years of age in which one of the twins smoked and the other did not. The researchers reported that by the time women reach menopause, those who smoke a pack a day throughout adulthood have an average bone density deficit of 5 to 10 percent compared with those who are smoke-free.

It is recommended that you stop smoking to prevent the deterioration of your bones. However, in the meantime stepping up your calcium, zinc and magnesium intake will assist to nourish your bones. You will need to get about 1,500 mg per day.

Vitamin B-Complex

B vitamins are essential for maintaining physical and mental fitness and healthy skin, eyes, nerves and tissues. Smoking leads to the deterioration of these aspects of the body's functioning and it is recommended that smokers take additional vitamin B.

Especially important, say researchers, is folic acid, a nutrient that is often deficient in smokers and one that your lungs need. Studies have shown that increased folic acid intake can lessen symptoms of bronchitis as well as reduce the number of abnormal or precancerous bronchial cells in smokers. Plus inadequate folic acid intake has been linked to increased susceptibility to cancerous changes in the lungs of smokers.

"Not only does smoking deplete the B vitamins, but smokers' diets often aren't as good as those of non-smokers, so smokers don't get enough of these nutrients to begin with, "says nutritionist James Scala, Ph.D., author of If You Can't/Won't Stop Smoking. Dr. Scala recommends that smokers take a B-complex supplement that contains the Daily Values of all of the B vitamins.

Finish off with a multivitamin

"Because smoking depletes the body of all vitamins, smokers absolutely need to take a multivitamin/mineral supplement on top of their specific nutritional supplements," says Dr. Scala.

He also stresses the importance of smokers' adding more fruits and vegetables to their diets. "Smokers generally eat poor diets, which contributes to their nutritional deficiencies," he says.


If you smoke, the only sensible way to try to avoid smoking-related diseases is to quit. In the meantime, the following nutrients can assist to preserve your health or at least minimize the damage.

Nutrient Daily Amount

Plus a multivitamin/mineral supplement containing the Daily Values of all essential vitamins and minerals.

Special note

If you are taking anticoagulant drugs, you should consult you health professional before taking vitamin E supplements as vitamin E acts as a natural anticoagulant.

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Airola, P. 1984, How to get well. Health plus publishers.

Bland, J. 1996, Contemporary Nutrition. J & B Associates.

Cromie, C. 2005 Smoking and Drinking. Good medicine.

Davies, S. and A. Stewart., 1997, Nutritional Medicine. Pan.

Hoffer, A. and M. Walker, 1978, Orthomolecular Nutrition: New Lifestyle for Super Good Health. Keats publishing.

Holden, S., Hudson, K., Tilman, J. & D. Wolf, 2003, The Ultimate Guide to Health from Nature. Asrolog Publication.

Jacka, J. 1997, A-Z of Natural Therapies. Lothian.

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In addition to the substantial destruction of antioxidants caused by smoking, many smokers also have an inadequate intake of antioxidants. Antioxidant nutrients have protective roles with regard to cancer, heart disease, cataract formation, cognitive (mind) dysfunction, and other diseases.

If you smoke: QUIT! In the meantime, at least attempt to minimize the harm your smoking does to yourself.

If you need help use this program at to stop smoking. It not only provides motivating information, it has a daily support system via personal email or SMS.