Smokers should get more vitamin C and E

April 1, 2006

Far too many people get too little vitamin E. The problem is especially large in smokers and can partially be solved by a supplement of vitamin C.

What do you do if you get too little vitamin E? Here is a suggestion: take more vitamin C.

Smokers have this problem more than any other group. They use vitamin E much faster than non-smokers. This is because tobacco smoke oxidizes and destroys the vitamin, which causes it to fail in the fight to protect the unsaturated fats of the body’s cells. Smokers therefore have a greater need for vitamin E than non-smokers. Because they have a greater need, it is easier for them to receive too little.

This is where vitamin C comes in. Vitamin C is easier to get a hold of than vitamin E. Because vitamin C is an antioxidant it can protect the vitamin E from oxidization by the free radicals of the tobacco smoke. This has long been believed, but, until recently, remained unproven in people. There has lately been a small scientific breakthrough in this field.

The study was done as a cooperative effort between a number of American universities and one Canadian university. 11 smokers and 13 non-smokers were given supplements of 50 mg vitamin E containing deuterium. By measuring the amount of deuterium in the blood the researchers were able to determine how fast the vitamin E disappeared from the smoker’s blood (plasma) and compare that to the changes in vitamin E levels in the non-smokers.

It disappeared, as expected, fastest in the smokers. In the course of 25 hours half of the marked vitamin E had disappeared. In the non-smokers this took 42 hours. But, when the smokers were given 500 mg vitamin C morning and evening, it took 34 hours for half of the marked vitamin E to disappear. The vitamin C protected the vitamin E reserves in the smokers, but did not bring them to the level of those in the non-smokers.

Far too few get enough
One can therefore see a normalising of vitamin E in smokers with the help of vitamin C. This is of course only true if the smokers receive enough vitamin E in the first place, which can be said of far too few.

To conclude the summary of this research is should be mentioned that only 8% of men and 2.4% of women receive the recommended 12 mg vitamin E (alpha-tocopherol) per day. This is highly likely no better in the U.K. The first and most important recommendation made is that smokers received the recommended amounts (for smokers) of both vitamins C and E (125 mg vit. C and 15 mg vit. E). The second recommendation is that more research be undertaken regarding whether other antioxidants can protect against the degradation of vitamin E. This is important.

But is it true that one needs 12 mg vitamin E per day? Yes it is! An earlier study has shown that the bodily tissue of healthy, young people uses about 5 mg vitamin E (alpha-tocopherol) per day.

Because one on average only absorbs about one third of ones food intake in the intestine, should one take a little bit more than the aforementioned 12 mg. But if one eats an especially light diet more should be taken. If breakfast is only cornflakes and low fat milk, taking a vitamin E supplement won’t do much good. Only a tenth of it will be absorbed.

Even young, healthy smokers should receive more vitamin E than others. Older people have an even greater need and it is apparent that most people don’t get enough.

By: Vitality Council

1. Bruno R S et al. Human vitamin E requirements assessed with the use of apples fortified with deuterium-labeled α-tocopheryl acetate. Am J Clin Nutr 2006;83:299-304
2. Bruno R S et al. α-Tocopherol acetate disappearance is faster i9n cigarette smokers and is inversely related to their ascorbic acid status- Am J Clin Nutr 2005;81:95.103.
3. Bruno R S et al. Faster plasma vitamin E disappearance in smokers is normalized by vitamin C supplementation. Free Radical Biology & Medicine 2006;40:689-97