Managing Your Diet and Weight
The question of whether to take vitamin supplements is a sticky one indeed. Some researchers pooh-pooh the need for vitamin supplements and insist that it is possible to obtain all our nutritional needs by eating healthy foods. It is undoubtedly better to get our vitamins and minerals from the foods we eat.
But the sad fact is that most Americans do not choose foods that provide the recommended levels of many vitamins and minerals from their diets. In the end, the supplement-or-not-to-supplement question is one each of us must answer for ourselves.
In addition to the guidelines listed above, smokers who are members of the following groups may have other special needs for vitamins and minerals:
- women using oral contraceptives
- pregnant women
- postmenopausal women
- people on weight-loss diets
- runners and other athletes
- those who drink significant quantities of alcoholic beverages
- hospitalized patients
- those exposed to high levels of environmental pollutants
- older people
Vitamin A is probably the single most important nutrient for keeping the tissues lining the bronchi, trachea and lungs healthy. If smokers are deficient in vitamin A, the cilia that normally cleanse the lungs and bronchial passages are more susceptible to injury by tobacco smoke and the goblet cells, which secrete mucus, are more likely to die.
Numerous animal experiments have shown that vitamin A protects animals from carcinogenic substances found in cigarette smoke. In addition, some animal studies have shown that vitamin A may help prevent cancers of the skin, bladder and breast.
Tobacco Smoke Inactivates Vitamin A
Vitamin A is broken down at a faster rate in smokers, probably because some of the substances in tobacco smoke inactivate this vitamin. Several studies have shown that persons with low blood levels of vitamin A are more likely to come down with cancer.
One study showed that heavy long-term smokers who were given a six-month course of vitamin A showed a decreased level of pre-cancerous changes in their bronchi. And while the results of some studies have been less conclusive, a Norwegian study found that heavy smokers with low vitamin A levels had three times as much cancer as heavy smokers who had adequate blood levels of vitamin. Another study suggests that vitamin A may also have a protective effect against cervical cancer.
American Cancer Society Recommendations The American Cancer Society now recommends a diet high in vitamin A to help prevent cancer. And Michael B. Spom, chief of the lung cancer branch at the National Cancer Institute, has stated, “No human population at risk for development of cancer should be allowed to remain in a vitamin A deficient state. Considering the relatively trivial cost … this is certainly a goal which should be met for the entire population.”
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