The indispensable importance of quitting smoking
Before analyzing the protective usefulness of diets and supplements against smoking, it is necessary to make a premise.
There are no diets, drugs or supplements capable of offering absolute protection from the damage of smoking.
The only effective, and always advisable, strategy for protecting yourself against smoking damage is to stop smoking.
This premise is, to say the least, essential, since, according to some studies, smokers who regularly take multivitamin supplements tend to feel somewhat more protected from the harm of smoking; consequently, they reduce the commitment to quit smoking and tend to consume more cigarettes.
Such an attitude tends to cancel any (hypothetical) benefit offered by the regular intake of "anti-smoking supplements", worsening the smoker's health rather than improving it.
If then the assumption of these products also becomes a device to decrease the commitment in the consumption of fruit and vegetables it is clear that - albeit indirectly - their intake is particularly harmful for the health of the smoker.
So, to recap:
- First of all we need to stop smoking ; the attending physician is able to provide an overview of the most effective strategies in this sense, helping the patient in the (often difficult) path of smoking cessation;
- If you cannot stop smoking it is even more important to try to cure your diet with the help of a professional; statistics reveal that smokers are more likely to adopt incorrect eating habits, which in fact tend to aggravate the harm of smoking;
- If you are unable to optimize your diet and / or if your doctor or nutritionist deem it appropriate, then you may consider taking a multivitamin / antioxidant supplement or a product specifically formulated against smoking damage.
- If you decide to take a supplement against smoke damage, always remember that:
- the benefits offered by these products are questionable and in any case limited (not all studies agree on their usefulness and, in some cases, some single high-dose vitamins can be dangerous);
- taking these supplements should not offer an illusory sense of protection from the harm of smoking; those who hire them must take into consideration that any benefits are in any case limited and that to protect their health they should first of all limit the number of cigarettes smoked (or better yet stop smoking altogether);
- taking these supplements should not replace the consumption of a varied and balanced diet; before taking a supplement it is necessary to make every reasonable effort to optimize your diet.
Diet against Smoke Damage
The habit of smoking tends to increase the nutritional needs of some vitamins and antioxidants in general; in particular:
- Vitamin C : is the most valuable vitamin for smokers, since the body consumes it to neutralize free radicals introduced through cigarette smoke. Not surprisingly, smokers have a vitamin C requirement 2-3 times higher than non-smokers (those who smoke should take at least 200mg of Vitamin C a day).
Foods rich in vitamin C are of vegetable origin; among the best known and consumed, we remember the oranges, lemons, grapefruit, kiwis, pineapple, strawberries, tomatoes, broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, cabbage and cut lettuce.
A diet characterized by the consumption of at least 4 portions of fresh seasonal vegetables a day (2 of fruit and 2 of vegetables) is on average able to satisfy even the increased vitamin C requirements of smokers. In addition, it provides the body with many other vitamins, mineral salts and polyphenolic antioxidants which - similar to vitamin C - are used by the body to fight free radicals generated by smoking.
- folic acid : it is another important vitamin for smokers; similar to C, it is found in fresh plant foods such as peas, beans, tomatoes, oranges and green leafy vegetables.
Similar to vitamin C, folic acid has a negative effect on light and above all on high temperatures. For this reason, it is preferable to consume roughly half of the daily vegetable portions; smoothies and centrifuges should be consumed quickly after preparation.
- carotenoids and vitamin E : important for their antioxidant role, they are generously contained in red-orange plants (carotenoids), oilseeds and related oils (vitamin E).
Vegetable oils (evo, corn, hazelnuts, walnut and the like, avoiding tropical ones) must however be consumed in moderation, as excessive consumption favors being overweight. In this regard, it is recalled that excess body fat amplifies the damage caused by smoking and that, for this reason, the smoker's diet should also be sober and free of excess;
- Vitamin D : in recent years, researchers have paid particular attention to this vitamin, recognizing it as an increasingly important role for health. The benefits of vitamin D would be remarkable even for smokers, given the anti-inflammatory and protective role against smoking-related lung diseases.
Most of the Vitamin D requirements are met by sun exposure; in the absence of hepatic or renal pathologies, in fact, the body is able to synthesize by itself the Vitamin D which it needs through the sun exposure of the skin.
For smokers, sun exposure would therefore be particularly important, as long as it is done gradually, avoiding sunburn and supported by a diet rich in antioxidants.
With regard to foods rich in Vitamin D, we recall some fatty fish (salmon, mackerel and herring), egg yolk, liver, fish oils (especially cod liver oil) and artificially enriched foods.
- omega 3 : fish and fish oil are also very important for their generous supply of essential fatty acids from the omega-3 series. These nutrients, due to their anti-inflammatory, hypo-tensive and cardiovascular activity, are very important nutrients for the smoker's health. Their adequate contribution is guaranteed by the consumption of 2-3 portions of fish per week and, partially, by the consumption of nuts and some particular vegetable oils (such as hemp seed)
The Smoker's Diet is therefore analogous to that normally recommended to the general population, although a greater and more rigorous adherence is necessary.
Supplements against Smoke Damage
Once the major needs of some nutrients have been ascertained and the beneficial role in protecting the health of smokers has been demonstrated (there is in fact a clear correlation between low plasma levels of antioxidants and increased risk of suffering from smoking-related diseases), several studies have tried to understand whether a specific integration could represent a valid bulwark against smoke damage.
As logic suggests, isolating a single nutrient from the countless foods in food, and administering it alone in a concentrated form, can be poorly effective, useless or even dangerous. In fact, the vitamins and antioxidants present in foods act in concert to exercise a global protective role, which cannot be ascribed to a single nutrient in particular.
Between the 1990s and the early 2000s an attempt was made to evaluate the protective efficacy of an integration with beta-carotene and vitamin E in preventing lung cancer; a large population study highlighted substantially zero efficacy for vitamin E, and even a potential negative effect for beta-carotene in smokers.
In general, several studies have shown that if a nutrient is beneficial to the health of the smoker when it comes from a balanced and varied diet, it is much less obvious that it also benefits when it comes from an isolated dietary supplement.
A supplement against smoke damage should provide - more than a single nutrient in a concentrated form - a mix of useful substances for the health of the smoker.
On the vitamin front it should first of all provide the right doses of those vitamins for which the risks of deficiency are greater; as we have seen, it should therefore represent a generous source of Vitamin C, with good amounts of Vitamin D, Vitamin E, folic acid and vitamin B12.
It should then provide an antioxidant matrix of vegetable origin, such as citrus extracts, medicinal plants or algae, or a mix of antioxidants (including, for example, resveratrol, lipoic acid, N-acetylcysteine, melatonin, polyphenols and bioflavonoids).
The role of omega three is also very important for those who do not take adequate amounts of fish.
In addition to vitamin C and D, the major evidence on the possible protective role for smokers' health is registered for N-acetylcysteine, given its antioxidant and favorable role for respiratory health (it is also used in the pharmaceutical field in the treatment of some respiratory diseases, such as COPD, more common among smokers).
A good smoking cessation supplement should also bring in substances that can somehow help with smoking cessation. Among these, melatonin, tryptophan, berberine and n-acetylcysteine may also be useful (see also Natural Supplements for Smoking Cessation).