Second hand smoke lowers plasma beta-carotene levels in nonsmoking women.




Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev

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Cigarette smoking is the number one cause of lung cancer, which kills more men and women in America than any other cancer. In fact, more people die of lung cancer than of several other cancers combined. According to the American Cancer Society, “in 2001 there will be about 169,500 new cases of lung cancer in the United States: 90,700 among men and 78,800 among women. About 157,400 people will die of this disease: 90,100 men and 67,300 women.” There are many organizations and associations that provide assistance to those who would like to stop smoking but have not been successful.

Of equally serious concern are those individuals who may not smoke, but are in the presence of someone who does and therefore are inhaling the smoke themselves. The problem of second hand smoke has been addressed nationally as many counties and states are declaring all public buildings smoke free. It is known that exposure to second hand smoke can cause disease and as time allows for further investigation, the mechanisms by which these diseases occur become targets for additional research.

In Italy, a group of researchers took this additional step to examine in greater detail the consequences of inhaling second hand smoke. The study focused on nonsmoking women who were married to smokers. A total of 1249 women were recruited for the study representing various regions of Italy. These women were given a questionnaire that fully reported on their diets and health, a medical examination and blood tests to determine levels of alpha and beta-carotene, L- ascorbic acid, alpha-tocopherol, and lycopene. Urine tests were used to evaluate the level of exposure to environmental tobacco smoke.

What the researchers learned at the end of this study was that there was an inverse relationship between the amount that the husbands smoked and the participants’ blood levels of beta-carotene and ascorbic acid, or vitamin C. In other words, the more the husband smoked in the presence of the wife, the lower the wife’s levels of these two critical nutrients. The authors of this study concluded that the findings may, “explain the biological mechanism that link ETS (environmental tobacco smoke) exposure with lung cancer and ischemic heart diseases.”1


1. Farchi S, et al. Exposure to environmental tobacco smoke is associated with lower plasma beta-carotene levels among nonsmoking women married to a smoker. Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev. Aug 2001;10(8):907-9.