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    Vitamin C Isn't a Smoker's Salvation

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    How smoking causes damage to the arteries is unclear. What is known is that smoking increases the amount of "free radicals" in the blood, which occur naturally in everyone but are highly destructive. Free radicals can change or damage the lining of the walls of blood vessels. Antioxidant vitamins such as vitamin C and vitamin E are thought to help out by "mopping up" the free radicals in the blood and limiting the amount of damage they can cause. But smoking causes many other changes as well, making it hard for researchers to pinpoint a single reason behind smoking's harmful effects.

    One expert who reviewed the study said smokers should not jump to the conclusion that taking vitamin C daily is of no use to them.

    Balz Frei, PhD, director of the Linus Pauling Institute in Corvallis, Ore., says vitamin C has many beneficial effects beyond heart disease prevention that make it a wise choice as a daily supplement for people who smoke. He says smokers use up vitamin C at a higher rate than nonsmokers and therefore need about 35 mg more of the vitamin per day than those who do not smoke.

    Frei's group published a study last year showing that daily supplements of vitamin C for one month led to improvements in blood vessels that had been damaged by smoking. He says the new study is at odds with the majority of other studies on the subject.

    "I think there is a real effect, although there may be some exceptions. The overall evidence is very compelling," he tells WebMD.

    Vital Information:

    • Contrary to previous findings, a new study shows that vitamin C does not protect the blood vessels from damage caused by smoking.
    • It is unclear exactly how smoking causes damage to the blood vessels, but it does increase the formation of free radicals in the blood, which occur in everyone but are very damaging.
    • Smokers have lower levels of vitamin C in their blood than nonsmokers, because they use it up at a faster rate, so taking a vitamin C supplement may be a good idea for its other beneficial effects, according to one expert.
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