Destruction of tocopherols, carotenoids, and retinol in human plasma by cigarette smoke

Garry J. Handelman, Lester Packer, Carroll E. Cross

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

178 Scopus citations


The mechanisms by which exposure to cigarette smoke dramatically increase the incidence and severity of atherosclerosis and the incidence of lung cancer, chronic obstructive airways disease, and emphysema are incompletely understood. Epidemiologic evidence has suggested a modifying role for antioxidant micronutrients, including tocopherols and carotenoids, in these disease processes. It has been suggested that oxidants in cigarette smoke could be involved. We exposed freshly obtained human plasma to the gas phase of cigarette smoke to assess its effects on tocopherols, carotenoids, and retinol. Exposure to cigarette smoke led to the depletion of most of the lipophilic antioxidants in 20 mL human plasma. The order of disappearance was lycopene > α-tocopherol > trans-β-carotene > (lutein + zeaxanthin) = cryptoxanthin > γ-tocopherol = retinol. However, despite a substantial loss of α-tocopherol, there was very little peroxidative damage to lipids, and no delectable change in the content of polyunsaturated fatty acid-rich cholesterol esters. We conclude that a wide spectrum of lipophilic micronutrients undergo degradation when exposed to gas-phase cigarette smoke. The relevance of these in vitro findings to possible cigarette smoke-induced depletions of respiratory tract lipophilic antioxidants remains to be clarified.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)559-565
Number of pages7
JournalAmerican Journal of Clinical Nutrition
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 1996


  • carotenoids
  • Cigarette smoke
  • humans
  • lipid hydroperoxide
  • oxidants
  • plasma
  • retinol
  • tocopherol

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Medicine (miscellaneous)
  • Food Science


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