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WEDNESDAY, Aug. 6, 2003 (HealthDayNews) -- New research is adding a new twist to the legendary powers of vitamin C: daily supplements may ward off some of the bad effects of secondhand smoke.
But you might not want to go rushing to the vitamin aisle just yet. While one researcher says the findings of a study released this week are reason enough to embrace vitamin C, another expert isn't so sure.
"It's taking a big leap of faith to go that far," says Dr. Linda Ford, the former president of the American Lung Association.
Previous research has suggested vitamin C may prevent some of the destructive effects of molecules known as free radicals. The molecules, found in tobacco smoke, damage cells by exposing them to dangerous amounts of oxygen. The oxidation is linked to smoking-related disorders such as clogged arteries, cancer and heart disease.
In the new study, California researchers turned to the effects of vitamin C on those who are regularly exposed to secondhand smoke. The researchers recruited 67 Bay Area nonsmokers who are exposed to the smoke of at least one cigarette a day.
Most were exposed to at least nine and most were spouses of smokers, says study author Marion Dietrich, an epidemiological researcher at the University of California at Berkeley.
Californians aren't usually exposed to smoking in public places because it's illegal to smoke in bars, restaurants and workplaces, Dietrich explains: "Most of the exposure happens at home."
Some of the nonsmokers took 500 milligrams of vitamin C each day. That's a common amount found in over-the-counter supplements. Others took a placebo, while a third group took daily doses of a specially created supplement made of vitamin C, vitamin E and an antioxidant called alpha-lipoic acid.
After two months, researchers analyzed the level of a chemical that is linked to oxidation. The level of the chemical dropped by 11 percent and 13 percent, respectively, for the nonsmokers who took vitamin C or the vitamin mixture compared to those who took the placebo. "That's quite meaningful," Dietrich says of the findings, which appear in the Aug. 5 issue of Nutrition and Cancer
Meanwhile, the level of vitamin C in the nonsmokers rose by 32 percent among those who took vitamin C and by 41 percent in the combination group.
"If you cannot escape secondhand smoke, it would be preferable that you should at least have a very healthful diet with lots of fruits and vegetables that can give you a good amount of vitamin C," Dietrich says. An alternative would be to take a vitamin C supplement, she adds.
But Ford, an allergist and immunologist, isn't convinced by the data because it doesn't show that vitamin C reduces any kind of disease. Only a long-term study in humans would prove that, she says.
Instead, she recommends simple avoidance of tobacco smoke.
"We don't have to go through all these hoops to get this protection," she says.
And what about smokers who light up around nonsmokers?
"The thing we want to hone in on is that if they want to smoke, they smoke by themselves," she says.