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Provitamin Beta-Carotene Use and Lung Cancer Risks in Smokers

Oct 17, 2019


In a large study that examined clinical data of over 100,000 subjects, use of the provitamin beta-carotene, part of many multivitamin supplements, was found to be significantly associated with increased risk of lung cancer in smokers.

Lung Cancer in Smokers

Even though the anti-smoking revolution in the United States has been extremely successful in making smoking ‘uncool’ and expensive with the high taxes that the government placed on cigarettes, lung cancer affects over 200,000 people a year in the United States (American Lung Association). And smoking is obviously the main cause of this type of cancer.

Beta-carotene use & Lung Cancer Risk in Smokers

What is Beta-Carotene?

Beta carotene, a pigment as well as a provitamin, is present in many multi-vitamin supplements available in the market today. The body converts this pigment into vitamin A which is necessary for healthy skin and eyes. Beta carotene can also be found naturally in a variety of fruits or vegetables. Carrots are rich in alpha and beta carotene.

Beta-Carotene Use increases Lung Cancer Risk in Smokers

Multivitamin intake by people of all backgrounds is growing as they find this the best way to meet and supplement all their nutritional needs. While current smokers are not that likely to be found taking multivitamins, many do use these supplements in order to try to shift to a healthier lifestyle.

Surprisingly, some recent studies have highlighted that potential supplements like beta carotene can further increase the risk of lung cancer in current smokers and people who have a significant smoking history. In one such study, researchers from the Thoracic Oncology Program at Moffitt Cancer Center in Florida, studied this connection through examining data on 109,394 subjects and concluded that “among current smokers, beta-carotene supplementation was found to be significantly associated with an increased risk of lung cancer” (Tanvetyanon T et al, Cancer. 2008). Scientifically, researchers theorize that this is because of beta carotene’s ability to aggravate oxidative damage to the cell’s DNA and modify cellular pathways associated with cancer promotion.

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Today, anyone smoking in the US are well informed of the associated risks that come with their actions but are often unable to stop because of their addiction to nicotine. However, this blog is yet another example of the unintended consequences a seemingly harmless healthy product like multivitamins can potentially have with a specific subset of people. The key point is that otherwise harmless supplements can become harmful in different contexts when taken in excess. Even in the case of smokers, beta carotene is a necessary fixture for a balanced diet. The problem comes through the excessive intake of this pigment through the use of multivitamin supplements.

Cancer patients often have to deal with different chemotherapy side effects which affect their quality of life and look out for alternative therapies for cancer. Taking the right nutrition and supplements based on scientific considerations (avoiding guesswork and random selection) is the best natural remedy for cancer and treatment related side-effects.