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Beta-carotene in dietary supplements and smokers' lung cancer risk

Exploring the link between beta-carotene, a powerful antioxidant, and the increased risk of lung cancer in smokers.

November 06, 2023

While we often think of taking dietary supplements as benefitting our health, the American Cancer Society has identified taking supplements containing beta-carotene as a risk factor that can increase your chances of developing lung cancer

Beta-carotene is an organic pigment found in plants that belongs to the carotenoid group. It is a precursor to vitamin A, essential for maintaining healthy skin, vision and the immune system. 

Beta-carotene is also known for its antioxidant properties that help protect cells from the harmful effects of free radicals and oxidative stress. According to the National Library of Medicine, the recommended average dosage for adults ranges from 6 to 15 mg daily.

Beta-carotene in natural food versus dietary supplements 

The Beta-Carotene and Retinol Efficacy Trial (CARET) revealed that smokers who took dietary supplements containing beta-carotene, at an average dose of 20 to 30 mg per day, had a significantly higher risk of developing lung cancer. 

On the other hand, the National Institute of Health states that beta-carotene obtained through natural food sources, such as fruits and vegetables, is associated with a lower risk of lung cancer. In fact, the CARET trial showed that beta-carotene supplements have the opposite effect, especially in smokers. Fruits and vegetables that are red, yellow or orange are the richest sources of beta-carotene, such as spinach, sweet potatoes and carrots. 

These studies underscore the importance of obtaining beta-carotene through a balanced and diverse diet rather than relying on high-dose supplements, especially for individuals with risk factors like smoking. 

According to Husain Abbas, MD, director of the Weight Loss Surgery Center at HCA Florida Memorial Hospital, “It is essential to provide your body with the right vitamins and minerals to ensure it functions appropriately and uses the energy from food effectively.”

Safe use of supplements

Before deciding to take any dietary supplements, there are three crucial factors to consider: 

  • Consult your doctor: Always seek advice before starting any supplement regimen, especially if you are a smoker or at a high risk of developing lung cancer. 
  • Choose a balanced diet: Instead of relying solely on supplements, aim for a balanced diet rich in fruits and vegetables. 
  • Be cautious with high-dose supplements: Avoid high-dose beta-carotene supplements, mainly if you are a smoker or have other lung cancer risk factors. 

“When taking a vitamin supplement, it is best to choose a supplement containing no more than 100% of the daily value (DV) of vitamins and minerals and one without iron, unless advised,” says Dr. Abbas.

Taking small steps today can help decrease your risk for lung cancer. In addition to taking the right supplements and refraining from smoking, it’s important to schedule yearly preventive health screenings for both you and your loved ones.

Learn more about scheduling your health screenings. 

November 06, 2023

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